Renewed 'Day of Rage' spreads across Mideast

/ Source: news services

A look at the latest developments in Mideast political unrest on Friday:

A protester died after security forces broke up clashes on Friday between supporters of King Abdullah and protesters calling for reform, and the government warned it would not tolerate "chaos."

Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit blamed opposition Islamists for the clash in the pro-Western monarchy, which has seen weeks of protests calling for curbs on the king's powers.

"What happened today is definitely the start of chaos and it is unacceptable and I warn of the consequences," Bakhit told Jordanian television. Addressing Islamists whom he said were taking orders from Egypt and Jordan, he said: "Enough playing with fire. I ask you, where are you taking Jordan?"

The family of the dead protester said he was beaten up by security forces, but the official Petra news agency said he died after he suffered a stab wound in the chest during the clashes which police were trying to quell.

Al Jazeera quoted its correspondent as saying a second protester had died.

A security officer grabs hold of a man while trying to break up a clash between pro-government supporters and protesters calling themselves the "Youth of March 24 Movement" in Amman March 25, 2011. The protesters, calling themselves the "Youth of March 24 Movement", were demanding for political reform and the ouster of the prime minister. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed (JORDAN - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)Muhammad Hamed / X02365

Hussein al-Majali, the head of general security, said security forces did not use excessive force and the protester who died suffered from a heart attack. "Security forces had nothing to do with it," he said.

Islamist, leftist, liberal and tribal figures have staged protests and sit-ins over the past few weeks calling for a constitutional monarchy in Jordan.

The demonstrations have been smaller than others across the Arab world, but underlying tensions between Jordanians of Palestinian origin and the country's indigenous "East Bank" population have resurfaced and could also threaten stability.

YemenFacing growing calls for his resignation, Yemen's longtime ruler told tens of thousands of supporters Friday that he's ready to step down, but only if he can leave the country in "safe hands."

President Ali Abdullah Saleh's speech came as anti-government protesters massed for a rival rally in the capital of Sanaa and similar protests ramped up in other Middle Eastern countries as a months-long wave of unrest that has swept the region continued.

Saleh spoke in a rare appearance before a cheering crowd outside his presidential palace in the capital. Across town, an even larger number of people converged on a square in front of Sanaa University chanting slogans calling for Saleh's ouster and waving red cards emblazoned with the word "leave" despite fears of more violence a week after government security forces shot dead more than 40 demonstrators in the capital.

Pro-demonstrator forces clutched assault rifles as they patrolled the square. Hundreds of people lined up to be searched before entering, many clad in white robes and turbans, with prayer mats tossed over their shoulders from noontime prayers.

"We are trying to gather as many people as possible here. He needs more pressure to leave," said demonstrator Magid Abbas, a 29-year-old physician. "We have great hopes."

A Yemeni army soldier who defected attends a demonstration against President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, on March 25, 2011, as Saleh and top dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar failed to strike a deal in talks on the country's political crisis. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI (Photo credit should read AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)Ahmad Gharabli / AFP

The bloodshed last Friday prompted a wave of defections by military commanders, ruling party members and others, swelling the ranks of the opposition and leaving the president isolated.

Saleh also imposed a state of emergency last week that allows media censorship, gives wide powers to censor mail, tap phone lines, search homes and arrest and detain suspects without judicial process. Saleh, who has held power for more than three decades, has repeatedly sought to appease the protesters to no avail.

SyriaThe protests were among several that swept across the Middle East on Friday — the holiest day of the Muslim week, where believers traditionally congregate in mosques — as governments braced themselves to face the growing discontent.

Syrian troops opened fire on protesters in the restive southern city of Daraa on Friday, shooting crowds that set fire to a bronze statue of the country's late president, a resident told The Associated Press. Witnesses and activists reported fatalities, with unconfirmed reports of as many as 20 slain.

Tens of thousands of Syrians were taking to the streets across the country in the most widespread civil unrest in years, defying crowds of government backers and baton-wielding security forces to shout their support of the uprising in Daraa, according to witnesses, activists and footage posted online.

Thousands flooded Daraa's central Assad Square, many from nearby villages, chanting "Freedom! Freedom!" and waving Syrian flags and olive branches, a resident told The Associated Press by telephone.

BahrainBahrain's security forces fired tear gas and pellets at anti-government protesters in the Gulf kingdom on Friday after a prominent Shiite cleric vowed that their demands for the Sunni monarchy to loosen its grip on power will not be silenced by "brutal force." One person died, activists said.

Bahrain's government, meanwhile, brushed aside suggestions for an international investigation into the deaths of protesters during the month of unrest or allegations that police attacked wounded protesters at a hospital.

Defying a ban on public gatherings, thousands of people poured out of Muslim prayer services Friday at mosques in Shiite towns and demonstrated against the ruling Sunni dynasty, which has declared a three-month period of emergency rule and invited in a Saudi-led military force to help quell the unrest.

Bahrain is the Gulf country worst-hit by the wave of political protest sweeping the Arab world. The stability of the island kingdom is of particular concern to the United States, which bases naval forces in the country as a key counterweight to Iran's growing influence in the region. Washington has been pushing its ally to answer some of the protesters' reform demands.

Saudi ArabiaHundreds of Saudi Shiites staged a protest in the kingdom's oil-producing Eastern Province Friday calling for prisoner releases and a withdrawal of Saudi forces from Bahrain, activists said.

The world's No. 1 oil producer and a U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia has not seen the kind of mass uprisings that have rocked the Arab world this year. But dissent is simmering in the kingdom as unrest takes root in neighboring countries.

Demonstrators called for political freedoms and an end to what they call sectarian discrimination against Saudi Arabia's Shiite Muslim majority by the absolute Sunni monarchy.

The remarks recalled a similar statement by ex-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who said at one point that he wanted to resign but couldn't for fear the country would sink into chaos. Mubarak was ousted after an 18-day uprising that has inspired protesters in Yemen and several other countries to demand change.

Security forces parked tanks and military vehicles close to the palace and beefed up their presence around Saleh's ruling party building and the interior ministry.

As he spoke, Saleh's forces tried to prevent more anti-government demonstrators from entering Sanaa. Troops manning checkpoints on roads leading to the capital searched cars, trying to identify protesters, said a demonstrator who was turned away, Hamid al-Hawlani.

"We were in a car of some 25 people, but soldiers told us that the capital was closed," said al-Hawlani, whose tribe has joined anti-Saleh protests. "They said we could come after the protests end."

A few hundred residents of the western Shiite Muslim village of Karzakan, Bahrain, march against the Bahraini government after midday prayers Friday, March 25, 2011. Opponents of the regime, most of them Shia, attempted coordinated large-scale protests Friday, but government forces were prepared with checkpoints around most villages and a heavy police and tank presence. Fighter jets were heard flying over villages. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)Hasan Jamali / AP

Protesters who had called for a million people to gather in Sanaa on Friday — the holiest day of the Muslim week, where believers traditionally congregate in mosques — also stepped up security around the downtown square where they have held demonstrations for weeks.

Saleh is already under a great deal of pressure. Following last Friday's killings, senior military commanders, lawmakers, Cabinet ministers, diplomats and provincial governors jumped ship and sided with protesters.

His opponents said they would stay put in the downtown traffic circle they have optimistically renamed "Taghyir Square" — Arabic for "Change" square.

Weeks-old tents were emblazoned with the pictures of demonstrators killed last week. Volunteers handed out the red cards, which in this football-crazy nation was an obvious symbol of somebody who must be kicked off the field. Men and women were searched separately.