Egypt-inspired protests gain pace across region

PARIS,  (Reuters) – Anti-government protests inspired  by popular revolts that toppled rulers in Tunisia and Egypt are  gaining pace around the Middle East and North Africa despite  political and economic concessions by nervous governments.

Government backers try to storm the gate of Sanaa University during clashes with anti-government protesters in Sanaa, Yemen yesterday. REUTERS/ Khaled Abdullah

Clashes were reported in tightly controlled oil producer  Libya, sandwiched between Egypt and Tunisia, while new protests  erupted in Bahrain, Yemen, Iran and Iraq yesterday.

The latest demonstrations against long-serving rulers came  after U.S. President Barack Obama, commenting on the overthrow  of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, declared: “The world is  changing…if you are governing these countries, you’ve got to  get out ahead of change, you can’t be behind the curve.”

With young people able to watch pro-democracy uprisings in  other countries on satellite television or the Internet, and to  communicate with like-minded activists on social networks hard  for the secret police to control, authoritarian governments  across the region have grounds to fear contagion.

Protests spread across Yemen yesterday demanding an end  to the president’s three decades in power, and a 21-year-old  demonstrator died in clashes with police in the south, witnesses  and medical sources said.

In Sanaa, capital of the Arabian Peninsula state, hundreds  of government loyalists wielding batons and daggers jumped out  of cars to chase around 800 protesters marching in the streets.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a U.S. ally against al Qaeda  who has been in power in fractious Yemen for 32 years, was  quoted by the state news agency as saying the unrest was a  foreign plot to foment chaos in Arab countries.

Saleh has pledged to step down when his term expires in 2013  and offered dialogue with the opposition, but radical protesters  are demanding he go now.

In Bahrain, protesters poured into the centre of the capital  Manama yesterday for the third successive day to mourn a  demonstrator killed in clashes with security forces on Tuesday.

The emirate has a history of protest over economic hardship,  the lack of political freedom and sectarian discrimination by  the Sunni Muslim rulers against the Shi’ite majority.

Some 2,000 protesters demanding a change of government were  encamped at a major road junction in Manama, seeking to emulate  rallies on Cairo’s Tahrir Square that toppled Mubarak.

Though itself only a minor oil exporter, Bahrain’s stability  is important for neighbouring Saudi Arabia, where oilfields are  located in an area populated by an oppressed Shi’ite minority.

DISTURBANCES
AT IRAN FUNERAL

In Iran, supporters and opponents of the hardline Islamic  system clashed in Tehran during a funeral procession for a  student shot at an anti-government rally two days ago, state  broadcaster IRIB reported.

Both sides claimed Sanee Zhaleh was a martyr to their cause  and blamed the other for his death.

Monday’s rallies in Tehran and several other Iranian cities  were the first staged by the Green pro-democracy movement since  security forces crushed huge protests in the months after  President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed 2009 re-election.

Hundreds of opponents of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, in  power since 1969, clashed with police and government supporters  in the eastern city of Benghazi yesterday’s early hours, a  witness and local media said.

Reports from the port city, 1,000 km (600 miles) east of the  capital Tripoli, said protesters armed with stones and petrol  bombs set fire to vehicles and fought with police in a rare  outbreak of unrest in the oil-exporting country.

Gaddafi’s opponents used the Facebook social network to call  for protests across Libya on Thursday.

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