Yemen's Capital: A City Of Chaos

Anti-government protesters rest on their collapsed tent following clashes with the police as they called for the resignation of  President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen. i i

hide captionAnti-government protesters rest on their collapsed tent following clashes with the police as they called for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen.

Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images
Anti-government protesters rest on their collapsed tent following clashes with the police as they called for the resignation of  President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen.

Anti-government protesters rest on their collapsed tent following clashes with the police as they called for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen.

Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

Yemen has been in a state of near-anarchy for the past six months, with youthful protesters staging sustained demonstrations across the country against President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The frequent armed clashes have involved government troops, defectors, tribesmen and Islamist militants. Yemen's troubles are readily apparent in the capital, Sanaa. NPR's Kelly McEvers sent this postcard.

As far as the eye can see, tents have been pitched up and down the street. Instead of cars, there are tents everywhere. Tents of canvas and tarp, held down with cinder blocks tied to rope. Tents filled with carpets and mattresses for boys who are sleeping, or reading the Koran.

One of the tents has a garden painted on the outside. As one man said, that's "to prove that they will stay as long as they can."

It's formally known as University Square. But the protesters call it Change Square. To me, it looks more like Change Mile.

After the security forces fired live ammunition on protesters in March, killing more than 50 people, the demonstrators have vowed not to leave Change Square in Sanaa until President Ali Abdullah Saleh steps down. One large sign puts it bluntly, "Get Out."

The focal point of Change Square is an intersection that features posters of those killed or jailed. The posters hang from light poles, while demonstrators take turns making speeches on a large stage.

The protesters have vowed to remain peaceful, but there have been violent clashes, including a round that erupted in May.

The evidence of that fighting was written all over one of the taxis I was taking. It looked like it had been through hell. The back window has been blown out. The front windshield has one big bullet hole in the upper right hand corner and the entire windshield had been shattered, making it difficult to see through it.

The taxi was shot up in a neighborhood north of Change Square. A tribe that sympathizes with the protesters began fighting against troops loyal to the president. The driver takes us to the neighborhood to show us how bad the fighting really was.

He showed me a wall that is pocked with probably a thousand bullets. Clearly the shooting carried on to the other side of the street. Even the curb has been shot to pieces.

The battle that began in May lasted for weeks. It ended when Saleh himself was injured by an explosion in his palace mosque in early June. He's now said to be recovering from burn wounds in Saudi Arabia, and no one knows when, or if, he will return.

Since then, Yemen has been in a kind of limbo. Saleh's relatives still control some of the government and some of the army. But much of the army has defected to the rebels.

Now, one tribe has been fighting against Saleh's troops just outside the capital. Residents in Sanaa fear it won't be long before the war reaches the capital again.

For now, though, life goes on. At a busy mobile-phone shop, a salesman named Zaid said he thinks months of protesting might be paying off.

The government is dying, he said. Like a tree that's slowly being deprived of its water. But the people, he said, they are alive. "I think we have to be optimistic," Zaid said.

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