SANA, Yemen — Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis poured into the streets of major cities and towns across the country on Friday, keeping the pressure on the nation's embattled president to step down.
The mass demonstrations in the capital, Sana, and at least 17 other cities and towns, including Taiz and Ibb, were the largest since President Ali Abdullah Saleh left a hospital in Saudi Arabia. He has been recovering from wounds suffered in a June attack on his palace compound.
Yemen is reeling from nearly six months of protests by activists calling for an end to Saleh's 33 years in power. The crisis has sparked armed conflict between Saleh's forces and heavily armed tribesmen who have turned against him, further destabilizing the already fragile and impoverished country. And there are fears that Yemen's al-Qaida offshoot will gain from turmoil and have a freer hand in plotting attacks on the West.
On Friday, hundreds of thousands of antigovernment protesters defied the scorching summer weather and the dawn-to-dusk fasting hours during the holy month of Ramadan to renew their demands for Saleh's resignation, waving Yemeni flags and chanting antiregime slogans, according to witnesses.
Protest organizer Abdel Handi al-Azazi said that the high turnout for Friday's demonstrations sent a clear message to Saleh that "you will not return to the country whatever you do."
Since Saleh left Yemen, the country has been in limbo, with both the protesters' demands and the question of who will succeed Saleh unresolved.
The United States and Saudi Arabia have pressured Saleh to remain in Riyadh since his return is likely to spark renewed violence in the country.
Yemen's opposition parties and the country's most powerful tribal confederation have endorsed a U.S.-backed power-transfer deal that would give Saleh immunity from prosecution if he steps down.