Walking through the streets of Sanaa on our way to ‘Change Square’ we pass tanks and troops with their batons and guns at the ready.
“Welcome” people shout to me, one man stops me to say “We are free here”, “This is our democracy and we are not leaving until the president resigns”. People wander freely around the tents, tents erected by people from many different religious and political persuasions; Communists and Islamists, Sunni and Shia Muslims, united with one goal, they are called ‘the opposition’, and for the moment they are, but the future, is one thing that no-one can possibly predict in Yemen.
That this remains a peaceful protest against the reign of President Ali Abdullah Saleh – who has ruled with an iron fist and survived for 33 years – is amazing, because, after America, this is the second most heavily armed country in the world where troops have killed over 20 protesters already. I am told it has taken careful negotiation keep the tribes from coming armed to Change Square to defend the protesters and to take on the military.
And last night in ‘Change Square’ saw the death of a wonderful 21 year student who was killed when troops tried to enter and remove the protesters tents – my guide said he couldn’t sleep after trying to save the man’s life. The hospital was overrun with casualties so the local mosque took them in, I met a man who’d been electrocuted with an electric baton, I heard other stories of men in hospital whose bodies were frozen from the gas thrown at them, it was called ‘tear gas’ in the press but these people’s nervous system seemed to have been affected; creating rumours that illegal nerve gas was used.
Yet still the area has a joyful feel, like a festival, on the stage people perform comedy, mimicking the president, but one can’t help wondering why a dictatorship would allow such a community to grow, and unless the presidents walks away, which he has shown no sign of doing, more bloodshed seems inevitable.