(WASHINGTON) -- Protesters in Yemen took to the streets of Sana and other cities Thursday to demand the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled the country since 1978.
The demonstrators were said to have taken their cue from rallies in Tunisia that led to that president stepping down, as well as recent protests in Egypt calling for President Hosni Mubarak to quit.
In Washington, the State Department said that it supports the right of Yemenis to "express themselves and assembly freely."
Privately, however, Obama administration officials are worried what would happen to the country if Saleh is toppled. Al Qaeda has a firm footing in Yemen and its influence could rapidly spread if the situation turns more chaotic.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio