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As in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa, Yemenis have been energised by popular protests starting in Tunisia which have pressed for democratic change. From late January 2011 we have witnessed the growth of widespread protest movements across Yemen. On the anti-Government side these have been largely made up of students, some politically affiliated and civil society and have received the support of the official opposition grouping JMP, and elements of the armed forces. At the same time we have also seen large pro-Government demonstrations in support of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The anti-Government protest movement across Yemen has made plain its principal demand, that President Saleh step down. The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) Initiative meets this demand in its outline of a staged plan for a formal transfer of power leading to the formation of a National Unity Government and early presidential elections. The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) supports the aims of the Initiative and has already signed the GCC Initiative, as have representatives of the ruling party (GPC). The protest movement, representative of large numbers of Yemen's students and civil society, is diverse and lacks a single voice. In meetings with its members British embassy officials have seen a range of views, some aligned with the JMP and its support of the GCC Initiative, others not. A major theme is concern with accountability and justice for those suspected of human rights abuses and corruption.
The highly volatile security situation in Sana'a, the capital, and across Yemen constrains the ability of our embassy staff to travel widely in the country and interact freely with as many Yemenis as we would like. But our ambassador reports a continued desire for change among many Yemenis.