SAN'A, Yemen – Yemeni security forces opened fire on rioters angry over cuts in subsidies on oil products Thursday, leaving at least 16 people dead and more than 30 wounded in the Middle Eastern nation's worst civil strife in more than a decade.
Troops fired tear gas and beat people with batons as protesters mobbed government buildings — including the oil ministry. Protesters responded by pelting the forces with stones.
The violence broke out Wednesday, when eight people were killed, a day after the government announced it was cutting subsidies on oil products by more than half, part of new belt-tightening reforms.
The new subsidy cuts mean a near doubling of prices of gasoline, diesel, kerosene and gas compressed in containers for public use, while tickets for some public transport increased by about 30 percent — straining household budgets in this impoverished nation on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula (search).
Municipality workers had barely finished cleaning the streets of San'a (search), the capital, after Wednesday's clashes when the violence erupted again.
Fires broke out and gunfire was heard in several neighborhoods, and army tanks lined the main streets and surrounded the offices of the Cabinet, the ruling party and radio and television buildings.
One person was killed Thursday in San'a, three more in the city of Sa'dah to the northwest and 12 more in the cities of Marib in the north, Dali and Taaz in the south and the Red Sea port of Hudaydah, according to police and medical officials.
Protesters also set two army cars on fire and broke into a police station, freeing all the prisoners inside in Lawdar, a town 155 miles southeast of San'a and a stronghold for Muslim fundamentalists.
"Prices have risen and we're afflicted, while not one single corrupt official has been held accountable," Mohammaed al-Baazany, one protester said. "There are officials living in houses worth $10,000 when their (monthly) salary is only $100, where is all that coming from?" added the 25-year-old unemployed university graduate.
"Hunger is merciless," he said.
The riots, in at least a half dozen cities, were the worst to hit the nation since violence broke out in 1992, also over price increases.
The government of Yemen — a U.S. ally in the war on terror — has said it is trying to reduce budget deficits, but it faces growing resentment over the struggling economy. Unemployment currently runs at 36 percent. Yemen discovered oil in 1986, but the government has been accused of rampant corruption and failing to pump oil wealth into the economy.
Ibb, a province some 120 miles south of the capital, witnessed the worse material damage, with serious sabotage to public property, police said.
Two journalists working for local papers were arrested and their cameras confiscated, the press syndicate and an editor said. Ahmed Said, editor-in-chief of the Al-Wahdawi weekly confirmed that a journalist from his paper, plus the Al-Asima weekly were rounded up by police.
Correspondents for foreign and Arab television networks were told not to photograph or film the riots, but no official ban was issued. The camera of an Associated Press reporter was confiscated by soldiers, and Al-Jazeera (search) satellite network reported that a driver and cameraman of theirs were detained while covering the riots.
More than 48 protesters have been rounded up by police in San`a and Dali since the clashes started, police officials said.