Augusta native tells of Yemen horrors

Jeb Boone in Say'un, Hadramout, Yemen, a governorate in the southeaster part of the country, in front of an old Ottoman fort with the tourist police escort.

Seen through the eyes of one U.S. journalist, the massive government protest in Yemen's capital March 18 can only be described as a bloodbath.

"It was the most awful thing I've ever seen in my entire life," said Jeb Boone, an Augusta native who is managing editor of the Yemen Times newspaper. "The whole place was covered in a red swath of blood."

As tens of thousands gathered in Sanaa to demonstrate against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, snipers fired on protesters from rooftops.

Police also made a wall of tires around the crowd and lit them on fire, making a barricade of flames that blocked an escape route, The Associated Press reported.

Boone said a field hospital set up in a mosque next to the protest was overflowing with dead and wounded.

Boone has covered the Yemeni uprising since protests began in January. Since the deadly protest in the capital, he has said it is clear Saleh will eventually step down. How soon and how peacefully he bows out remains the question.

Some of the estimated 52 killed in the protest were people Boone had befriended through his reporting.

He saw a funeral procession from the field hospital to the protest camp at Sanaa University stretch for a mile.

Rebels wrapped bodies in Yemeni flags and carried the dead above their heads to a memorial attended by more than 100,000 people, Boone said.

He heard them chant: "The martyrs are the beloved of God."

It was those events that drove most of the country's military to side with the revolution against the government, Boone said.

When the Army joined the revolution, Boone watched as protesters met soldiers with kisses and flowers in the streets.

"When the top military commander Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar defected from Saleh and joined the revolution, I knew Saleh was done," Boone said. "The military is split at about 75 percent (to) 25 percent in favor of the revolution. (Saleh) knows he would lose any conflict."

The government's loss of control is especially evident in Abyan province, where an explosion killed at least 110 people in a weapons factory Monday.

Though the explosion was an accident, it occurred as looters tore through the unprotected province after the military had pulled out.

Boone said the Yemenis support the West's actions in Libya and the air campaign to halt Moammar Gadhafi's attacks on civilians.

"One of my Yemeni co-workers at the Yemen Times told me today that they would be doing (the) whole Arab world a service if they just dropped a bomb in (Gadhafi's) lap," Boone said. "With that same sort of mentality, Yemenis are asking for American help in their revolution."

Still, Boone foresees a fight to be done solely by the Yemeni people, as the U.S. historically has supported Saleh's opposition to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Boone said violence has died down since the massacre March 18. In Sanaa, where Boone lives, at least 100,000 demonstrators gather at the protest camp every Friday for prayers.

Other protests take place in Taiz, four hours south of Sanaa, and Aden, on the coast of the Indian Ocean, but Boone must stay in the capital.

The government has cracked down on foreign journalists, and four of Boone's journalist friends were deported this month when soldiers broke into their tower house and arrested them.

"All I can really do is keep my head down and stay behind cover," Boone said. "It's only a matter of time before Saleh will go. The only question is the manner in which he makes his exit."

Davidson graduate reports on unrest in Yemen
Boone on the March 18 protest:

"There is one 11-year-old boy, Salem, still in the hospital who had both of his eyes shot out. One bullet passed through both of his eyes, from one side of the front of his head to the other. It missed his brain, so he survived, but it blinded him. There are hundreds of other stories just like this."

Read more of Jeb Boone's articles on his blog:

http://jebboone.wordpress.com/

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