26 Protesters Killed When Yemeni Forces Open Fire

Government forces in Yemen opened fire on tens of thousands of protesters in the capital Sanaa Sunday — killing dozens. Freelance journalist Tom Finn in the Yemeni capital Sanaa tells David Greene troops used anti-aircraft guns and automatic weapons on the crowd.

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DAVID GREENE, host: In Yemen, security forces once again fired on anti-government protestors in the capital, Sanaa. That follows a day of violence yesterday in which at least 26 people were killed and more than 200 were wounded. We spoke a short while ago with freelance journalist Tom Finn, who was in a mosque that has been turned into a makeshift hospital. Some listeners will find some of his descriptions in the conversation disturbing.

Tom, good morning.

TOM FINN: Good morning.

GREENE: Can you tell us exactly where you are and what you're seeing?

FINN: I'm in the - in a mosque at the center of Change Square in Sanaa, which has been turned into a field hospital. And as I speak, protestors are being dragged in. A lot of them have been shot in the legs and in the chest. This is just from this morning. So this is fresh violence that we're seeing.

One man, who's been shot in the thigh, told me that they were trying to expand the protest camp this morning. They were trying to put more tents down, and that's when they came under fire from government forces.

It's really chaotic and gruesome scenes in here. There's blood on the floor and on the walls. And just about five minutes ago a doctor ran into the room clutching a tiny little child who'd been shot in the head. I've just talked to a nurse, who said that the child was in the back of a car and that a stray bullet had come through the car window and hit the child in the head.

GREENE: Tom, did the nurse say anything about the hopes for that small child to survive?

FINN: The child is in critical condition. And the nurse said that she's not expecting the child to survive. There's a huge crowd of women gathered around the child at the moment, but lots of people crying and weeping. And it's, you know, incredibly worrying scenes here.

And it seems as if the violence is set to continue here. Protestors seem to be undeterred by the violence that took place last night. And there are calls for more marches both in Sanaa and across the country later this afternoon.

GREENE: Can you tell us anything about why the security forces might've opened fire on the protestors?

FINN: Yesterday was the beginning of an escalation program by protestors here. They're growing tired with the ongoing political stalemate in Yemen, as well as the deterioration of basically everyday life. The crisis of food and water have been going up rapidly over the past few months.

So what happened yesterday was a huge march. And the protestors were running and many of them had (unintelligible) and stones(ph) . And many of them seemed to anticipate that the clashes were going to happen yesterday. So I think the security forces were just completely overwhelmed by this number of protestors. And clearly the security forces decided they did want to let the protestors get into the center of Sanaa.

GREENE: Tom, you mentioned stalemate. This has been going on for months. There have been stages where it appeared that the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was prepared to perhaps leave power. We know he's in exile now in Saudi Arabia. Have we heard anything from him during this fresh violence about potentially stepping down?

FINN: We haven't heard any official statement, either from the ruling party or from President Saleh in Saudi Arabia. But to be quite frank, there is a complete disillusionment now on the ground. People no longer believe in the political system in Yemen. In the sense that they're so used to hearing President Saleh make these promises and then go back on them that they decided they're simply going to take matters into their own hands.

The negotiations going on at the elite level with the Gulf monarchies and the U.N. and the U.S. seem very distant from on the ground here in Sanaa. People are saying that President Saleh stepping down and a president's elections are not enough. A lot of the protestors here want his whole family to be removed from power. So you know, there's a lot of demand which has yet to be met here in Yemen.

GREENE: We've been talking with journalist Tom Finn, who is based in the Yemen capital of Sanaa.

Thank you, Tom.

FINN: Thank you.

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