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Protests deepen in Yemen and Bahrain

An anti-government protester shouts during a demonstration on Sunday demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sana, Yemen.

Associated Press

An anti-government protester shouts during a demonstration on Sunday demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sana, Yemen.

Yemeni police firing from rooftops wounded more than 100 people in a protesters' camp Sunday, and antigovernment demonstrators paralyzed Bahrain's capital as unrest deepened in two of Washington's most critical allies in the Mideast region.

The ruler of Oman, another key Western partner, shifted some lawmaking powers to officials outside the royal family in what an analyst called a historic change.

The range of responses — from attacks to appeasement — underscored the different gambits at play. Some regimes look to battle their way out while others turn to rapid reforms in a bid to quell dissent inspired by a groundswell for change across the Arab world.

Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has increasingly turned to confrontation after protesters rebuffed his offer to bow out with elections in 2013.

Near Sana University, an encampment of demonstrators came under twin attacks: police firing from rooftop positions, and a ground assault by security forces and government backers armed with clubs and knives. Mohammad al-Abahi, a doctor in charge of a makeshift hospital near the university, said more than 100 people were injured, including 20 from tear gas inhalation.

In the southern Aden province, it was the protesters on the offensive — storming a police station and seizing weapons after police fled, witnesses said.

Yemen — hit by protests since mid February — is considered by Washington as a vital frontline ally against one of the world's most active al-Qaida branches.

Bahrain's showdown also has reached the one-month mark with no end in sight. There are now fears that the tiny kingdom could be stumbling toward open sectarian conflict between the ruling minority Sunnis and Shiites, who account for 70 percent of the nation's 525,000 people.

The mostly Shiite protesters first took to the streets to air their allegations of widespread discrimination. But the calls have been growing to topple the entire ruling monarchy after attacks and crackdowns by security forces in the strategic nation, which hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Protesters displayed their power with a new and disruptive strategy Sunday — blocking the main highway into the financial district in the capital, Manama, one of the region's investment and banking centers. Riot police firing tear gas cleared the barricades, but traffic was snarled for miles.

In Pearl Square — a landmark site occupied by demonstrators — security forces surrounded the tent compound, shooting tear gas in the largest effort to disrupt the protesters since a crackdown last month left four dead.

Police withdrew after activists stood their ground and chanted, "Peaceful! Peaceful!"

In Oman — a close ally of the United States and Iran — the ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, issued a decree saying he would hand legislative and regulatory powers within 30 days to two current advisory councils, one elected and another appointed by the sultan.

An Oman-based political analyst, Saeed Awad bin Bagoer, described the sultan's plan to transfer powers to the council as a "historic political reform."

The move reflects the scramble to head off possible wider unrest in the strategically important nation. Oman and Iran share control of the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, which carries 40 percent of the world's oil tanker traffic.

Protests deepen in Yemen and Bahrain 03/13/11 [Last modified: Sunday, March 13, 2011 11:15pm]
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