In Yemen, Calls To Oust President Persist

Renee Montagne talks with Washington Post correspondent Sudarsan Raghavan about the latest developments in Yemen, where thousands of people have been marching to call for the president's ouster.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

In Yemen, thousands marched today to call for the ouster of the country's president, Ali Abullah Saleh. Government troops fired into the crowd in the southern town of Taiz, killing protesters. Yesterday, thousands of women rallied in Taiz, and demonstrators have been camped out for weeks in squares throughout the country.

The Washington Post's Sudarsan Raghavan is in Yemen's capital and we reached him on his cell phone. Welcome.

Mr. SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN (Washington Post): My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: There seems to be a major confrontation going on today. What can you tell us about it?

Mr. RAGHAVAN: Definitely it appears so. This appears to be the most violent incident since March 18, when snipers loyal to the government killed more than 50 protesters in the capital, Sanaa.

What we know today so far is that we (unintelligible) 11 killed, about 500 injured, but we're also hearing that the totals could rise.

MONTAGNE: Protesters have been out for weeks, as I've just said, calling for the removal of the president. Any sign that it's having an effect on him?

Mr. RAGHAVAN: Publically it doesn't appear to be. He's been quite defiant over the past few days, really rallying supporters in the capital and elsewhere. Privately, you know, he is in negotiations with the opposition, as well as the United States and European officials. And those talks, there does appear to be a willingness to step down, but basically he's looking for his terms. He wants to step down, basically when the next elections are held, perhaps at the end of this year.

MONTAGNE: And this morning the New York Times is reporting that the U.S., which has been an ally of President Saleh for years, has now decided that he has to go. What do you know about the White House, the administration's stance on the situation there in Yemen?

Mr. RAGHAVAN: Well, for the past several weeks now, the U.S. ambassador here has been in discussions with the Yemeni officials, and he's been basically(ph) pushing for a transfer of power, peaceful transfer of power, over the past few weeks.

But what we're seeing from the Pentagon is sort of a different stance. We've seen them publically basically saying that Saleh is - Saleh is a very close ally and he's important in the - for counterterrorism. So what we're really seeing here is basically(ph) mixed signals, one coming from the Obama administration, the White House, and the other coming from the Pentagon.

MONTAGNE: Do you think that President Ali Abullah Saleh will dig in his heels though, because of the - these most recent demonstrations?

Mr. RAGHAVAN: It's really unclear. After the March 18 killings, he was - you know, he basically lost a considerable number of - quite a lot(ph) of support from his own party, from the military, as well as, you know, from the government and key tribes. And since then it's been relatively quiet, until today. So really it remains to be seen if these recent attacks today will weaken further and then perhaps generate more outrage from the international community, which the protesters have been seeking for quite a while now.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, what are those protesters or people on the street there in Yemen, in Sanaa, the capital, telling you?

Mr. RAGHAVAN: Well, there is a sense that especially(ph) the United States would send a clearer signal to the president, clearer public signal, that is. What they want is - they want the sort of treatment as seen in Egypt and Tunisia, where the - where the Obama administration really came fully on the side of the protesters eventually. What they're hoping now is that if the United States can make - can take a more public stance against the president, he will be more receptive to leaving immediately, which is what the protesters and the political opposition demands.

MONTAGNE: We've been speaking with Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post. He's in the capital of Yemen, Sanaa.

Thanks very much.

Mr. RAGHAVAN: My pleasure.

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