SANAA, Yemen (AP/The Huffington Post) — Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in cities across Yemen on Sunday, denouncing embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his remarks against women taking part in protest rallies.
Reuters reports that military forces loyal to Saleh opened fire on protesters in the capital, Sanaa, when they tried to march in a street outside their normal protest zone. Witnesses reported that the wounded were being rushed to the hospital.
In a speech Friday, Saleh condemned the mingling of men and women at protests in the capital and said it violated Islamic law. The comments enraged many in Yemen, and prompted the youth movement leading the anti-Saleh protests to call for mass demonstrations Sunday dubbed a day of "honor and dignity."
The call drew a massive turnout across the nation, with more than 100,000 people taking to the streets in Taiz and tens of thousands more marching in Ibb, Aden, Shabwa and other cities. The participation of women in the demonstrations, which also demanded the president step down, was strong.
Abdel-Malek al-Youssefi, an activist and organizer with the youth movement said the protests could well be "the last nail in Saleh's coffin."
Like many countries in the region, Yemen has been wracked with anti-government demonstrations for the last two months. The protesters are calling for steps to improve livelihoods and open up the country's restricted political life.
Though it was a young woman who first led anti-Saleh demonstrations on a university campus in late January, women didn't begin taking part in large numbers until early March. It was a startling step considering the Muslim nation is a largely tribal society with deeply conservative social and religious traditions.
Many Yemeni women remain out of sight and conceal themselves in public under black head-to-toe robes. The issue of child brides in Yemen has also drawn international criticism. But unlike in neighboring Saudi Arabia, women in Yemen are permitted to vote, run for parliament and drive cars.
Advocacy for women's rights in Yemen is rooted in the 1967-1990 period when the once-independent south had a socialist government. After unification, women in the south became more marginalized, resulting in high unemployment among female university graduates.
Near-daily protests and defections by key allies in the military, powerful tribes and diplomatic corps have failed to bring an end to Saleh's 32-year autocratic rule over the impoverished and fragile nation in the Arabian peninsula.
A crackdown on protesters by Saleh's forces has killed more than 120 people, according to Yemeni rights groups, but has not deterred crowds from gathering.
Meanwhile, representatives from Yemen's opposition were expected in the Saudi capital Sunday to explain their position to Riyadh and other Gulf mediators. Last week, the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council offered a proposal for ending the unrest in which Saleh would transfer power to his deputy.
The opposition criticized the proposal for not including a call for the power transfer to happen immediately. The GCC proposal also offered immunity to Saleh from prosecution, which the opposition rejected.