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Yemeni Police Shoot Their Own People, Mirroring Syria’s Response to the Uprising

Syria was not the only country where security personnel shot protesters today. In Yemen, the police did the same exact thing, killing three:

Yemeni security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters Tuesday, killing at least three amid rising international concern over the strategically located nation.

The United Nations Security Council met late Tuesday to discuss the deteriorating situation in Yemen, where rights groups say two months of protests calling for the president to step down have claimed 120 lives.

A Yemeni government delegation also headed to nearby Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, for talks with the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council over a proposal for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to transfer power to his deputy to end the crisis. The opposition held similar talks in Saudi Arabia Sunday.

The country’s opposition, inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, says nothing short of Saleh’s immediate departure would end the unrest.

The rulers being protested throughout the Middle East have had enough time to gauge the situation and determine their course of action. They are making the choice that repression and defiance will yield benefits, even though it did not work for Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt. There’s a positive model for their actions in Bahrain, and to an extent in Libya, and they’re confident that UN member states won’t commit force to another conflict in the region. So they shoot at their own people, and they expect the consequences to be favorable to them.

Now, the Yemeni situation is a bit further along than the Syrian one. The Saudis have already basically given up on Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Gulf Cooperation Council already put forward a proposal that would have Saleh give up power, as noted above. The demonstrations have been much bigger in the major cities in Yemen. Key leaders, like the nation’s most prominent general, have joined the opposition. So the “shoot your own people and don’t give up” strategy may be too late to save Saleh. According to eyewitnesses, some policemen joined the protesters today.

And indeed, officials with the regime are meeting with the Gulf Cooperation Council to end the crisis. And most important, the GCC proposal was drafted and overseen by the West. In an echo to the initial Egyptian proposal, the plan would give power temporarily to the nation’s Vice President, and Saleh would get full immunity from prosecution for himself and his family. Elections would be held within 60 days. Seeing the images of the Mubarak family in jail shows how popular that kind of an idea was in Egypt, and how the protest movement reacted – and got their way.

Saleh apparently will only agree to this if opposition leaders leave the country as well, allowing him to save face. That seems preposterous, especially because Saleh barely has control of the country outside the capital of Sanaa as it is.

The difference between this situation and Egypt is the presence of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has been effectively used by Saleh to maintain his hold on power. It doesn’t matter what horrors he inflicts on his people as long as the people he’s “protecting” the West from are worse.

We’ll see how that holds. Protests are expected again tomorrow, in honor of the first protester to die back in February, Mohammed al-Alwani. They should be massive.

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David Dayen

David Dayen