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No Egypt-style protests in Yemen, says prime minister

From Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN
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Exclusive with Yemeni PM on region's unrest
  • Yemen saw a large anti-government demonstration last week
  • "Yemen is not Tunisia or Egypt," says the prime minister
  • Analysts: Yemeni protesters seek many of the same things as other demonstrators
  • President Saleh, in office 32 years, recently announced he won't seek re-election

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- Yemen's prime minister, Ali Mujawar, on Monday defended his government, saying there is no reason Egypt-style protests should take off in the country.

"Yemen is not Tunisia or Egypt," he said. "Yemen has its own different situation... Yemen is a democratic country. Through all the stages, elections took place. And therefore this is a democratic regime."

He accused opposition parties of "trying to duplicate what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, and act as if it should be imposed on the people here in Yemen."

Last Thursday, thousands of anti-government demonstrators gathered near Sanaa University in Yemen's capital. People of all ages chanted and held signs with messages against poverty and the government. Many not only expressed solidarity with the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt but also demanded that Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in office for 32 years, needed to step down.

While the protests in recent weeks in Yemen have been on a smaller scale than in Tunisia and Egypt, analysts say that Yemeni protesters are seeking many of the same things -- particularly a government that they feel represents them and that will provide them with more economic opportunities.

Yemen pro-government demonstration
Protesters filling the streets in Yemen
  • Yemen
  • Egypt
  • Ali Abdullah Saleh

President Saleh recently announced that he would not seek re-election in 2013, after more than three decades in office, and won't install his son to replace him. He also has asked his political opponents "to re-engage in dialogue in hopes of reaching a sustainable and reconcilable political agreement," the Yemeni government said.

Prime Minister Mujawar said that if the opposition responds negatively to the president's initiative, "democratic life in Yemen will continue because it does not rely only on the opposition of 'joint meeting parties.' We have the people of Yemen who want to see the implementation of their constitutional entitlements through parliamentary elections."

Asked whether political turmoil in Yemen could benefit al Qaeda, Mujawar responded, "Absolutely -- everything is possible. Those extremists who are in Yemen found a suitable environment where there is poverty and unemployment.

"By the way, they also take advantage of Yemen's terrain, which is complex and difficult -- it is mountainous and has widespread desert areas," he added. "They are now spread in rural areas and therefore, the size of their attacks are not frequent and they happen at specific times in the cities."