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Anti-government protests in 3 Arab states

By United Press International   |   Feb. 3, 2011 at 4:00 AM   |   Comments

Activists in three Arab countries called for mass protests starting Thursday to demand democratic reforms and regime change.

Activists in Yemen, where huge protests broke out last week, declared Thursday a "day of rage" -- mirroring the term used in Egypt -- protesting against the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saleh, a U.S. ally against the al-Qaida terrorist group, said Wednesday he would not run for re-election in 2013 or pass the presidency to his son. He told an emergency Parliament session he would create a fund to employ university graduates, extend social security coverage, increase wages and reduce income taxes.

He also said he would cancel plans for a controversial constitutional amendment to allow him to remain president for life.

"I make this compromise today for the sake of the country," Saleh said."Yemen's interests come before personal interests."

Opposition leaders and activists rejected Saleh's statements as insufficient and urged their supporters to take part in renewed mass protests in the capital, Sanaa, and across the country Thursday and every Thursday for the next month.

The government is also battling a secessionist movement in the south and a Shiite insurgency in the north.

Yemen, home to one of the world's oldest civilizations, is one of the poorest of the Arab countries, with more than 45 percent of the country's population living in poverty, the U.S. Library of Congress Yemen profile says.

Syrian activists called for a day of rage against President Bashar Assad in front of the Parliament in Damascus Friday and Saturday, as well as in the northern city of Aleppo and other areas.

Using Facebook and Twitter, organizers demanded the government "end the state of emergency in Syria and end corruption." Syria has been ruled under a state of emergency since 1963.

Sympathy demonstrations were planned for Friday outside the Syrian embassies in the United States, Canada, Britain, Sweden and Denmark, a Facebook page indicated.

Facebook has been banned in Syria since 2007, but many Syrians use proxies and other ways to access it. Some 13,000 people have joined the Facebook page calling for the protests, a United Press International review indicated.

Assad told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Monday his nation was immune to the kind of unrest roiling Tunisia and Egypt. He acknowledged the growing unrest signaled a "new era" in the Arab world, but said Syria was insulated from upheaval because he understood Syrians' needs and was united with them in their common cause against Israel.

In Jordan, south of Syria, the opposition said it too would organize new mass protests Friday to show its opposition to the newly appointed prime minister. The Islamic Action Front, the political wing of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, said Maruf Bakhit, 64, who was Jordanian prime minister from 2005 to 2007, was the wrong person to initiate democratic reforms and rein in surging poverty and unemployment.

The country's largest opposition political group called for Bakhit to step down. It said it wanted the prime minister selected by popular elections, not by the king.

Bakhit -- appointed Tuesday by King Abdullah II with a mandate to introduce "true political reforms" after weeks of street protests -- met with Jordanian Senate President Taher Masri Wednesday to discuss political and economic reforms, Jordan's semi-official Petra News Agency reported.

Jordan is one of Washington's most important Middle East allies.

In Algeria, the government warned anti-government organizers against staging a massive protest planned for Feb. 12, saying they would be to blame if the demonstration turned violent. Demonstrations were banned in the capital after early January's violent protests.

A third Algerian died from self-immolation Monday.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is reported considering high-level Cabinet changes after more demonstrations were promised. His changes could involve promoting Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi, a former U.N. ambassador, to prime minister, replacing Ahmed Ouyahia,The Wall Street Journal reported.

Protests were also reported planned for Feb. 14 in Bahrain, a tiny island in the Persian Gulf, and in Libya at the end of the month.

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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