Tag Archive | "Ali Abdullah Saleh"

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Gulf States Expect Yemen’s Saleh To Quit

Posted on 07 April 2011 by hashimilion

Gulf states leading mediation efforts to end a political crisis in Yemen hope to reach a deal by which embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh would quit, Qatar’s prime minister said on Thursday.

Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council “hope to reach a deal with the Yemeni president to step down,” Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said according to QNA state news agency.

Foreign ministers of the GCC agreed Sunday to begin contacts with the Yemeni government and the opposition “with ideas to overcome the current situation”.

Qatar daily Alarab said the Gulf proposal which was presented to Yemeni parties calls on Saleh to step down and pass power to an interim national council comprising tribal and key political figures.

Both sides have received invitations to hold talks in the Saudi capital Riyadh, but a date of such talks has not been disclosed.

According to medics and witnesses, about 125 people have been killed in Yemen’s crackdown on protesters, who launched nationwide demonstrations in late January to unseat Saleh, in power since 1978.

The GCC groups Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia with Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

 

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Guarding the Fortress

Posted on 06 April 2011 by hashimilion

Saudi Arabia, fortified by its oil wealth, Wahhabi ideology and blanket American protection, finds itself drifting in the uncharted waters of a new Arab awakening fashioned in revolt.

SAUDI ARABIA APPEARS FROM THE OUTSIDE AS A BEGUILING FORTRESS HOUSING A remote Kingdom guarded by robed, well-oiled royals. This desert fortress is sustained by unlimited hydrocarbon resources, bringing fabulous wealth to its intoxicated rulers and sedating the inhabitants. Minarets serve as watchtowers of orthodoxy and dogma. The fortress has also remained strong because of a protective alliance with a foreign power, the United States (US), that chooses a romanticised vision of a kingdom that offers harmonious exchange and a false sense of security.

But the waves of revolution, dissent and sedition are lashing against the fortress’s very foundations, deepening cracks of this political structure built on shifting sand. King Abdullah and his thousands of royal brothers, nephews and assorted hangers-on have watched the fall of fellow dictators, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Others in their death throes, like Muammar Al Gaddafi of Libya and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, refuse to see the writing on the wall. The Saudi Royals’ younger brother King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah of Bahrain, kowtowing to Saudi diktat, has now made his choice by inviting Saudi military into his troubled land. Even the docile Jordanian monarch Abdullah II and his normally forgotten brotherly neighbour Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman are floundering.

No state in the Arab world is being spared the sudden wrath of its people. The old strategic criteria of dividing the region on the basis of oil versus non-oil states, or of alliances with the United States, now fails to hold water. There are no longer any guarantees, with or without American support, for protecting regional rulers from the legitimate demands of their people. The people have made common cause, rising from years of misrule and repression, through the use of new technologies in new media adopted by young people. The demographics of the population are simply too lopsided in favour of younger generations versus the old ruling oligarchy. All these factors are plentiful in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: a youthful majority, an abundance of computers, and deepening social and political resentments and alienation.

The Saudi Kingdom contains within its fortress walls a deeper rot: an arbitrary coercive and corrupt system that denies its subjects its fundamental political rights and social justice. The Saudi royals do not even grasp what it is that their people are demanding. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have all helped bring down the walls of opacity. The seventy percent of the Kingdom’s population who are under the age of thirty are predominantly Internet savvy.

They are asking for the creation of a constitutional monarchy, parliamentary elections, the release of thousands of political prisoners being held without trial or representation, an end to the endemic and massive royal corruption, reform of the judiciary and the minimising of perks and privileges afforded the 22,000 members of the House of Saud, as well as meeting demands to curtail the influence of the religious establishment.

Talk of a ‘Day of Rage’ scheduled for March 11 captured the world’s attention. To stop the increasingly corrosive developments, the Saudi state has equipped itself with the biggest carrot and largest stick in the Arab world. The carrot comprises the king’s promise of 37 billion dollars to his country’s agitated younger generations – a fifteen percent pay raise for government employees, aid for students and the unemployed, and access to sport clubs – something that only a Croseus-rich monarch like King Abdullah could hope to deliver. Nowhere are subjects offered such largess to buy off their loyalties.

Since thousands of voices using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube expressed ingratitude for such a ‘benevolent’ act, the state then decided to deploy its catch-all religious fall-back to warn its subjects that demonstrations and protests are un- Islamic. Using the pretext of the Saudi Kingdom as the ultimate guardian of the Islamic faith and custodian of the holy mosques, the state claimed to be protecting its population from the sins of other Middle Eastern youth. There have been in recent days mass arrests of those calling for reform, and multiple websites have been blocked. The Saudi bogeyman, thousands of security forces backed by armour on the street and helicopters hovering over city skies, act as an iron-fisted warning against any dissent. The Saudi rulers are beyond the reproach of their people.

Meanwhile the United States, traditional protector and ‘custodian of the holy oil fields,’ has lapsed into diplomatic torpor. The US has guarded the Kingdom from external threats through the sales of hundreds of billions of dollars of high-tech arms. Since 1945, the stationing of American forces in Dhahran near the critical oil fields have been crucial for Saudi security and are the lifeblood of American and world economy. The US never alluded to the subject of democracy in its support of the Saudi rulers and deliberately did not deal with the people, remaining constant in their policy for the survival of the Al Saud. The pact between Riyadh and Washington was to always protect the Kingdom’s fortress and not to get embroiled with the multitude of tribes, sects, regions, and ethnic groups.

The big carrot and stick have bought the Saudi rulers a temporary sense of control. But the faces of millions of screaming, self-liberated Arabs beaming at them on the screens of Al Jazeera have increased the tension. Prince Naif, interior minister and crown prince in waiting, may continue to repeat the Kingdom’s slogan: “What we took by the sword, we will hold by the sword.” But the traditional sword is dull, limited, and unable to meet the challenges of the moment. The Saudi rulers are also using the sectarian discourse both for the US and for their Sunni populations, portraying the Shi’a as the scary spectre seeking dominance and a dangerous alliance with Iran. They also are using the divide and rule policy to warn their Sunni population against the internal Shi’a enemy.

The most challenging group to the Saudi rulers is currently the Shi’a, who constitute 75 percent of the population in the Eastern Province, the Kingdom’s main oil-producing region. The Shi’a were also the first to respond to the eruptions of demonstrations in the Arab region despite the legal ban on demonstrations. The Shi’a have experienced loss of lives and imprisonment since 1979 because of their defiance.

The strategic regional predominance of Saudi Arabia through its oil wealth has allowed the country’s rulers to freeze reform. This policy offers temporary political respite for the kingdom, but the frozen body politic is brittle and can easily break. The danger is that continued repression of peaceful protests can lead to violence and radicalisation. At the moment, Islamic extremism and Al Qaeda have no space in the Arab movements of the people, but if this desperation continues to be confined to computer screens while political representation and expression is forbidden, then Al Qaeda will find renewed space.

By Dr Mai Yamani

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Ali Abdullah Saleh’s Last Minute Mediation Attempt

Posted on 05 April 2011 by hashimilion

Ali Abdullah Saleh begs Saudis to mediate on his behalf.

Sources close to the Saudi King said that Ali Abdullah Saleh had sent his Foreign Minister, Abu Bakr Al Qurbi to Riyadh on the 21st of March, begging the Saudis to meditate between Saleh and the protestors. Analysts believe that protests have entered their final stage and that Ali Saleh’s regime is close to collapsing.

Sources also added that the Yemeni President wanted Saudi Arabia to mediate with tribal leaders, leaders of the Southern Movement and military leaders, so that he can see out the remaining 6 months of his tenure. The Southern movement swiftly replied that negotiations should take place directly with the protestors who have no political affiliation, and hence no opposition party can claim to represent them.

Yemeni analysts warned Saudi Arabia of sending military equipment to help Ali Saleh. Any help would anger the Yemeni revolutionaries, and would make saudi mediation nearly impossible.

Saleh had sent a letter to the Saudi leadership via his Foregin minster begging for support, which was rejected. The Yemeni delegation got the impression that Saudi Arabia was incapable of mediating in this critical time.

 

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Yemen: Timeline of 2011 Protests

Posted on 14 March 2011 by hashimilion

Nationwide protests demanding an end to the 32-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh have entered their sixth week, but the Yemeni leader is refusing to step down until 2013. About 30 protesters have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes with government troops or Saleh supporters. Below is a timeline highlighting key events since the protests began:

2 February 2011: Thousands of Yemeni opposition supporters take to the streets of Sana’a, Aden and Taiz on the “First Day of Rage”, protesting against the government’s constitutional amendment allowing Saleh to run for another term. In a speech, Saleh promises not to run for president again or hand power to his son Ahmad, the Republican Guards’ commander. Saleh urges dialogue and engagement in “a national unity government”.

3 February: Tens of thousands of protesters in Sana’a on “Second Day of Rage” decry government corruption, and Saleh’s control of power and resources. Saleh again calls for dialogue with the opposition.

10 February: Thousands of Southern Movement (SM) supporters march in several parts of the south in protest at a military siege imposed by the government. They demand the release of all political prisoners detained for their involvement in SM, which is accused by the government of promoting secession.

11 February: Thousands of SM supporters staged protests in the southern cities of Aden, Abyan, Dhalea and Shabwa demanding Saleh leave power. Local NGO Yemen Human Rights Observatory (YHRO) says the government arrested at least 10 protesters. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigns.

12 February: Thousands in Sana’a celebrate Mubarak’s downfall, call for Saleh’s ouster, but are confronted by pro-Saleh demonstrators in al-Tahrir Square. Thousands of university students head towards Egyptian embassy calling for an end to Saleh’s rule; two are injured after being attacked by Saleh supporters with daggers and sticks.

13 February: Tens of thousands rally in front of Sana’a University as well as in Liberty Square in Taiz. They are confronted by pro-government demonstrators in both cities. Government security forces arrest 120 protesters in Taiz, according to Yasser al-Maqtari, a human rights activist from Taiz.

15 February: Around 2,000 Saleh supporters, backed by undercover police, attack over 3,000 student protesters in front of Sana’a University, using sticks and electric batons, Khalid al-Ansi, executive director of the National Organization for Defending Human Rights and Freedoms (a local NGO know as HOOD), tells IRIN.

16 February: Around 500 protesters in Aden demand Saleh’s ouster. Two protesters killed in Sana’a.

17 February: At least 25 injured in clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters in front of Sana’a University.

18 February: Four killed, 11 injured when the authorities attempt to disperse thousands of protesters in Aden in a demonstration called “Friday of Start”. A local council building, police station and several police vehicles are set ablaze, Mohammed Salim, a riot police officer, tells IRIN from Aden. At least three killed and another 87 injured when a grenade is thrown at tens of thousands of protesters in Taiz’s Liberty Square. Ten injured in another protest staged in the southern city of Mukalla.

19 February: One protester killed and another 15 injured in clashes between police and anti-government demonstrators in front of Sana’a University. Another protester killed in Aden.

21 February: The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), an opposition coalition, and Houthi followers in the north declare their support for the young protesters demanding Saleh’s ouster. Tens of thousands take to streets of Sa’dah, demanding same.

22 February: At least five students injured in clashes with Saleh supporters in front of Sana’a University.

23 February: Ten MPs resign from ruling General People’s Congress in protest at the government’s crackdown on protesters. Two protesters killed and 23 injured in Sana’a.

25 February: Hundreds of thousands of protesters stream onto the streets of Sana’a, Taiz, Ibb, Amran, Sa’dah, Aden, Dhalea, Mukalla, Lahj, Shabwa, Abyan, Dhamar, Marib, al-Jauf and Hodeida on the “Friday of Immovability”. At least 7 killed and dozens of others injured in Aden, according to HOOD.

26 February: Senior sheikhs from Yemen’s main tribes (Hashid and Bakil) declare their support for the protesters. “Saleh and his regime must leave now,” said Sheikh Fasail al-Dheli from the Hashid tribe. “How is it possible for a regime to reform things in two years after it failed to do so in more than three decades?” he asked.

27 February: Eight killed, 36 injured in Aden protests, raising death toll since 2 February to 26, according to YHRO.

1 March: Hundreds of thousands rally in most main cities to express solidarity with the families of protesters killed in Aden in a day named “Tuesday of Rage”. “Ending Saleh’s rule is the only option for us. We will not leave this place until Saleh steps down,” former MP Fuad Dihaba tells IRIN.

4 March: Two killed, six injured when army attacks anti-government protest in war-torn Harf Sufyan District, Amran Governorate.

6 March: Some 25 protesters injured in Ibb after being attacked by ruling party supporters.

8 March: Some 70-80 students injured and one killed after government troops fire at protesters in front of Sana’a University. “The troops used a toxic gas against the protesters,” said Hussein al-Shawjali, a volunteer neurologist at a mobile clinic providing medical services to protesters at the university. “Dozens are comatose or suffering spasms… Their lives are at high risk as we don’t have information about this toxic gas to prescribe the right serum for the victims,” al-Shawjali tells IRIN the following day. Sixty injured (20 of them police) in clashes between prison inmates and police in Sana’a central prison.

10 March: Saleh goes on TV to announce plans to change the constitution to move to a parliamentary system.

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Analysis: Popular Revolt Stacks Odds Against Yemen’s Saleh

Posted on 10 March 2011 by hashimilion

President Ali Abdullah Saleh is still resisting the popular clamor for his removal that has convulsed Yemen since protesters toppled Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak four weeks ago, but the odds are stacking up against him. About 30 people have been killed, mostly in the rebellious south, in clashes between Saleh’s security forces and the tens of thousands of protesters turning out daily across the country.

So far Saleh and his foes have avoided the bloody all-out battles for control such as those unfurling in Libya, where an equally determined Muammar Gaddafi is fighting for survival.

The Yemeni leader, who has ruled for 32 years by cannily navigating tribal politics, installing clan relatives in top security posts and rewarding loyalty with cash and favors, may be reluctant to go down the Gaddafi route, yet the prolonged standoff in the streets carries mounting risks of violence.

Police and security men fired into demonstrators near Sanaa University late on Tuesday, killing one and wounding 80.

“The events of last night illustrate that Saleh is willing to use increasing violence in an effort to maintain his rule,” said Sarah Phillips, a Yemen expert at Sydney University.

“The problem he has is that opposition to his regime is incredibly diverse, both geographically and in terms of what people want, after the immediate desire of seeing him step down, and that he now has very little that he can offer people.”

There is no sign of any let-up in the swelling protests against Saleh by Yemenis who blame him for what they see as decades of high-level graft, poverty and neglect.

“The momentum now is with the opposition, both protesters and the political parties, and that’s become increasingly clear,” said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center.

“We saw the largest pro-democracy protests in Yemen’s history last week. We’re seeing more opposition unity.”

Saleh, already combating revolts in the north and south, as well as an ambitious al Qaeda wing, has been losing the support of once-allied tribal sheikhs, lawmakers from his ruling party and Muslim clerics, but the army and police still seem loyal and the president’s Saudi and U.S. allies have not deserted him.

The veteran leader may accept that he cannot extend his rule indefinitely. “At this time, the most he would hope for is to preside over a transition period until the end of his term in 2013,” said Yemeni political analyst Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani.

WAR CHEST

The 68-year-old leader, using what opposition MP Abdulmoez Dabwan calls a “war chest” of cash, can also bring out loyalist crowds in his defense — this week his party organized free lunches for hundreds who then joined a pro-Saleh demonstration.

Saleh has pledged to quit in 2013 and not hand power to his son, but rejected an opposition plan proposed last week for political reforms and a timetable for his departure this year.

Ali Omrani, a former member of Saleh’s party, said Yemenis were no longer satisfied with vague promises from the president.

“He needs to offer something very clear about the peaceful transfer of power. He has to start with the security services and make a gesture — at least begin removing his relatives.”

Saleh accuses his foes of threatening Yemen with chaos and portrays himself to the West as a bulwark against al Qaeda. His government this week asked foreign donors to stump up $6 billion to fund its budget deficits over the next five years.

“Yemen wants more money to come in and Saleh wants to really try and fragment and fracture the protesters,” said Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen scholar at Princeton University.

“He believes if he can do that, he can continue to survive. But a lot of the protesters are wise to the game… and are trying to stand in solidarity with one another,” he said, citing the so-called Houthi northern rebels and southern secessionists.

Saleh’s challenges have multiplied in recent years as oil and water resources dwindle in Yemen, an unruly land of mountain and desert where guns abound and central authority is lax.

“The inability of the central government to deliver basic public services, the absence of law and order and the fragmentation of society have created the ideal environment for autonomists, secessionists, insurgents and irredentists to emerge and flourish in many parts of the country,” said Khaled Fattah, at Scotland’s St Andrews University.

The protests feed off youth unemployment, hunger and corruption, but many of Yemen’s 23 million people are also fed up with an autocratic leader who denies them a voice — and are impatient with opposition parties trying to cut deals with him.

Hamid, the Brookings analyst, said Saleh’s strategy was to stall and promise dialogue without altering the fundamental structure of the system in hopes the protests lose steam.

“But I don’t think we should be under the illusion that Saleh is going to become a democrat overnight,” he added.

Iryani said Saleh’s entourage was probably pressing him to fight it out and if the power balance shifted in his favor he might even opt for Gaddafi-style force — although in Egypt and Tunisia the military refused to suppress popular protests.

“The army has not been tested against the people yet. When it does, I expect it to disintegrate quickly,” he said.

Source Reuters

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Yemen’s Peaceful Protests Appeal to Shi’ite rebels

Posted on 10 March 2011 by hashimilion

Yemen’s northern Shi’ite rebels, inspired by Tunisia and Egypt, have stopped fighting the government and are joining to non-violent protests instead, a theologian with close ties to the rebels said on Tuesday.

The rebels, known as Houthis after their leader Abdel Malek al-Houthi, have fought the government on and off since 2004 in a conflict that even drew in neighbouring oil giant Saudi Arabia when Houthis briefly seized Saudi territory last year.

Abdulkareem Ahmed Jadban, who has mediated between the government and the rebels, told Reuters the Houthis have put down their weapons and joined nationwide peaceful protests that have swept Yemen demanding an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 32 year rule.

“The examples of Tunisia and Egypt have been powerful. The Houthis have not fired a single bullet in the last several weeks. The have taken to the streets in Saada in their thousands like the rest of Yemen,” Jadban said. But he cautioned that the non-violence could also be short-lived.

Yemen agreed a truce in 2009 to halt its intermittent war with the Houthis. But sporadic violence has continued, Jadban said, because Saleh is supporting a tribal figure in the Houthi stronghold of Saada.

“They still reserve the right of self-defence. The attack on them last week was unjustified. Saleh is trying to divert attention from the street rage he is facing throughout Yemen,” he added, referring to an attack by the military on protestors that killed two in Saada, the Houthis’ northern stronghold.

At least 27 people have been killed in Yemen since protests erupted last month. Saleh, a key U.S. ally against al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, is refusing street demands to leave and has hinted that Yemen would fall apart without him.

The Houthis, Jadban said, want effective representation in a national dialogue to take place if the popular movement manages to remove Saleh from office.

Jadban was until recently a member of Saleh’s ruling party, the General People’s Congress Party until he resigned last week along with 11 other parliamentarians to protest Saleh’s refusal to meet street demands to step down.

“Being in parliament was the only way to help the people of Saada because the ruling party controlled everything. No longer,” said Jadban, who has written books on the sect of Shi’ite Islam known as Zaidism, to which Houthis belong.

Jadban believes the Houthis might gain more traction if Houthis relinquished their belief in an Imamate, where the ruler must be a descendent of Islam’s prophet Mohammed. A Zaidi imamate ruled much of modern Yemen for more than 1,000 years until it was overthrown in 1962.

The Houthis are also deeply resentful of Saudi Arabia’s promotion of its austere Salafi school and fear that this fundamental version of Sunni Islam threatens their identity.

Saleh, who is backed by the United States, is of the same minority Zaidi sect as the Houthis, but also receives backing from Saudi Arabia in the conflict.

A Qatari-brokered peace agreement last summer stipulated that the government should help with the reconstruction of Saada but Jadban said little effort was made to improve the lot of the province, which is more impoverished than the rest of Yemen.

“There is no electricity. The whole region is sinking in darkness,” he said.

 

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Yemen President Offers Opposition Dialogue

Posted on 20 February 2011 by hashimilion

Yemen’s embattled president on Sunday sought a way out of the political crisis gripping his impoverished Arab nation, offering to oversee a dialogue between his ruling party and the opposition to defuse the ongoing standoff with protesters demanding his ouster.

The offer by the U.S.-backed Ali Abdullah Saleh came as protests demanding that he step down continued for the 11th straight day, with 3,000 university students demonstrating Sunday at Sanaa, the Yemeni capital.

The protests pose the most serious challenge to Saleh’s rule to date.

He has already made a series of concessions, pledging that his son would not succeed him and that he would not seek another term in office. On Sunday, he repeated his offer for negotiations.

“Dialogue is the best means, not sabotage or cutting off roads,” Saleh, in office for more than 30 years, told a news conference. “I am ready to sit on the negotiating table and meet their demands if they are legitimate,” said the Yemeni leader, who warned against “infiltrators” seeking to divide Yemenis and sabotage their country.

Saleh’s rule continues to show signs of resilience in the face of the sustained protests, that have seen security forces and regime supporters battling demonstrators, mostly university students.

The Yemeni regime, however, is not doing as well in the south of the country, where resentment of Saleh’s rule is far more entrenched and a secessionist movement is steadily gaining strength.

There have been deadly clashes there between protesters and security forces using live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas. South Yemen used to be an independent nation, but became united with the north in 1990. An attempt to secede by the south in 1994 was brutally crushed by Saleh’s army and allied tribesmen.

Yemen is a tribal society where almost every adult male has a firearm. A decision by the country’s major tribes to take sides in the standoff between Saleh and his critics could decide the president’s fate.

On Saturday, riot police fired on marchers in Sanaa, killing one and wounding five.

A total of seven people have been killed since the unrest began.

The protesters seek to oust Saleh, a key U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaida, and have been inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

Marching students on Sunday chanted and carried signs reading “Get out Ali for the sake of future generations.” Riot police watched the march but did not intervene.

Past protests were often attacked by government supporters, degenerating into riots.

Saleh’s regime is one of several in the Arab world currently coming under popular pressure to reform or step down. Since uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt toppled the two nation’s autocratic leaders, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, Libya and Algeria have been gripped by anti-government protests.

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Bahrain, Libya and Yemen Try to Crush Protests with Violence

Posted on 19 February 2011 by hashimilion

Violence in Libya and Bahrain has claimed scores of lives and left many more injured as the two Arab countries were united by popular protests that continue to shake the status quo and sound alarm bells across the region and the world.

A week after Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, was forced to stand down, dozens of Libyans were reported killed by Muammar Gaddafi’s security forces. Meanwhile, Bahraini troops shot dead at least one protester and wounded 50 others after mourners buried four people who were killed on Thursday in the worst mass unrest the western-backed Gulf state has ever seen.

“We don’t care if they kill 5,000 of us,” a protester screamed inside Salmaniya hospital, which has become a staging point for Bahrain’s raging youth. “The regime must fall and we will make sure it does.”

Last night footage was posted on YouTube apparently showing Bahraini security forces shooting protesters.

Western nations have been struggling to adjust their policies in response to the security crackdowns in Arab countries.

But Britain announced that it was revoking 44 licences for the export of arms to Bahrain amid concern over the violent suppression of protests in the Gulf state. The Foreign Office also said that eight arms export licences to Libya had been withdrawn, while a review of arms exports to the wider region continues.

Bahrain’s crown prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa went on television to promise a national dialogue once calm has returned. But the country’s most senior Shia cleric, Sheikh Issa Qassem, condemned attacks on protesters as a “massacre” and said the government had shut the door to such dialogue.

While the unrest in Bahrain was broadcast instantly around the world, the unprecedented bloodshed in the remote towns of eastern Libya was far harder for global media to cover.

Amid an official news blackout in Libya, there were opposition claims of 60 dead as diplomats reported the use of heavy weapons in Benghazi, the country’s second city, and “a rapidly deteriorating situation” in the latest – and the most repressive – Arab country to be hit by serious unrest.

Libyans said a “massacre” had been perpetrated in Benghazi, al-Bayda and elsewhere in the region. Crowds in the port city of Tobruk were shown destroying a statue of Gaddafi’s Green Book and chanting, “We want the regime to fall,” echoing the slogan of the uprising in Egypt.

Umm Muhammad, a political activist in Benghazi, told the Guardian that 38 people had died in the city. “They [security forces] were using live fire here, not just teargas. This is a bloody massacre – in Benghazi, in al-Bayda, all over Libya. They are releasing prisoners from the jails to attack the demonstrators.” Benghazi’s al-Jala hospital was appealing for emergency blood supplies to help treat the injured.

News and rumours spread rapidly via social media websites including Twitter and Facebook, but information remained fragmentary and difficult to confirm.

In Yemen at least five people were reported killed when security forces and anti-government protesters clashed for a seventh consecutive day in the capital, Sana’a, Aden and other cities, with crowds demanding an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 32-year rule.

Barack Obama said he was “deeply concerned” about the reports of violence from Bahrain, a close ally and the base of the US fifth fleet, as well as those from Libya and Yemen, and he urged their rulers to show restraint with protesters.

Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, also condemned the killings of protesters in Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. “The Middle East and North Africa region is boiling with anger,” he said. “At the root of this anger is decades of neglect of people’s aspirations to realise not only civil and political rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights.”

In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the influential Egyptian cleric Sheikh Yusef al-Qaradawi said the Arab world had changed and said Egypt’s new military leaders should listen to their people “to liberate us from the government that Mubarak formed”.

It has also emerged that the Ministry of Defence has helped train more than 100 Bahraini army officers in the past five years at Sandhurst and other top UK colleges.

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