Yemeni Army Raids University Campus

Host Melissa Block talks with Portia Walker who is a special correspondent for Washington Post based in Sanaa, Yemen. They discuss the latest clashes there where security officers opened fire on demonstrators demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In Yemen, at least one anti-government protester has died and dozens were wounded after an army raid on a university campus.

Demonstrators have been camping out at Sanaa University, and last night, violence erupted. The army used both teargas and live bullets. Members of the opposition say their resolve is only strengthened now to force the government to step down.

Portia Walker is covering the story for The Washington Post, and she joins us from Sanaa. That's the capital of Yemen.

Portia, explain how this violence started.

Ms. PORTIA WALKER (Correspondent, The Washington Post): A group of tribesmen were trying to bring a tent into the opposition camp that they've set up outside the university. They were stopped by the security forces who were on high alert because they're very concerned about people entering the camp with weapons hidden inside tents.

A fight broke out between opposition demonstrators and the security forces, and the security forces fired teargas into the crowd. They then fired live ammunition and rubber bullets up into the air, and then they fired into the crowd.

BLOCK: You visited a makeshift medical center that was set up there to treat the injured. What did you see there? What did people tell you?

Ms. WALKER: Well, it was a very panicked scene outside. Once I was inside, the first thing I saw was rows and rows of bodies lying on the ground. These were men who had been tear-gassed. A lot of them were, you know, lying around moaning, unable to stand up.

Beyond this line of, I'd say, dozens of men, there was an area for intensive care. In here, there were six or seven stretchers and hospital beds. There were men lying on these with bullet wounds, receiving intensive care from volunteer doctors there.

There were visible bullet wounds. There were men I saw with gaping wounds in their hands and in their legs.

BLOCK: Portia, the claim from the government that these opposition protestors have stashes of weapons with them, were you able to verify that?

Ms. WALKER: Well, it's something that's heard not just from government sources. I've heard from observers at the scene that over the past week, guns have been seen inside the camp. This is the opposition demonstrators' camp.

However, I have been visiting most days for the last few weeks, and I have not seen opposition demonstrators with weapons inside their camps.

BLOCK: We mentioned, Portia, that the opposition say that they are intent on having the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down. He's been in power for more than 30 years.

He has said he would step down in 2013, but that is not soon enough, I take it, for the protesters.

Ms. WALKER: Well, yes, exactly. He said that he would step down in 2013, in September, and the opposition are just not accepting it. It's looked, at several points, like the parliamentary opposition, they've looked as if they might be prepared to make a deal with the ruling party.

However, in the streets, we're seeing this growing youth popular movement similar to the ones we saw in Egypt and in Tunisia. They are calling for him to go immediately. And I think as a result, the parliamentary opposition are echoing this call, saying that he has to stand down right now.

BLOCK: So that opposition may be coalescing, as opposed to splintering, it sounds like.

Ms. WALKER: It's a confusing situation because Yemen has a number of strands of dissent. But what we've seen in the last month or so is all these different groups that oppose the president coming together.

That's obviously very worrying for the president and for the regime. But in a sense, there's also anxiety because all these different groups are so extremely different and have such different long-term aims, that if they were to succeed in ousting the president it may be very hard for them to find common ground.

BLOCK: I've been Portia Walker of The Washington Post. She is covering the unrest in Yemen and the deadly attack by the army in Sanaa last night.

Portia, thanks so much.

Ms. WALKER: Thank you.

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