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Posts Tagged ‘Zinjibar’

Fighting turns southern Yemen town into “hell”

Posted by Admin on June 9, 2011

Ali Abdullah Saleh

Ali Abdullah Saleh

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110608/wl_nm/us_yemen

By Mohammed Mukhashaf and Asma Alsharif Wed Jun 8, 1:42 pm ET

ADEN/JEDDAH (Reuters) – Bodies lay in the streets of a southern Yemeni town Wednesday as government forces battled Islamist militants, a local official said, underscoring the gravity of Yemen’s multiple conflicts.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh, 69, wounded Friday when rockets hit his palace, is having treatment in the Saudi capital Riyadh but there were conflicting reports about his condition — ranging from fairly minor, to life-threatening 40-percent burns.

A truce between his forces and tribesmen who back pro-democracy protesters was holding in Sanaa. Western and Arab powers have been working to persuade Saleh to stay away and allow a long-negotiated transition of power to begin.

Saleh has left a country in crisis, with Yemeni civilians bearing the brunt of fighting. Medical staff are having trouble reaching the wounded, and electricity and water are scarce, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.

Some 20 bodies have been retrieved in and around Sanaa since Saturday by ICRC and Yemen Red Crescent teams, including seven Tuesday in al-Hassaba, north of the capital, the ICRC said.

“Because of the fighting, it has often been difficult for medical personnel to reach certain parts of Sanaa,” said Jean-Nicolas Marti, the head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen.

The U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) said Yemenis are going hungry as the fighting disrupts food supplies and pushes up the price of gas, water, fuel and other basic commodities.

“There is a sharp deterioration of the food security situation in Yemen,” WFP’s representative in Yemen Gian Carlo Cirri told Reuters in an interview. “We are close to food prices having doubled on average since last year when it comes to key commodities such as wheat flour, vegetable oil and sugar.”

Sanaa was calm in Saleh’s absence, with a ceasefire holding between government forces and tribesmen loyal to Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, head of the powerful Hashed tribal confederation, who have turned against the president.

More than 200 people have been killed and thousands have fled Sanaa in the last two weeks as fighting intensified.

Al-Ahmar’s men withdrew from around seven government buildings, including the state news agency Saba which suffered heavily in fighting last week.

But many government ministries were not functioning as staff stayed away Wednesday and much of the city was suffering from cuts in electricity, fuel and water supplies.

GUNFIRE AND BLOOD

Officials and residents described dire scenes in the southern Abyan province where the army and Islamist militants have fought for days, causing thousands of residents to flee.

“There is a cat-and-mouse game going on in the streets now between the army and armed men. I can’t tell who’s who among them any more,” said resident Khaled Abboud by telephone. “There is a smell of gunfire and blood in the air. I only stayed to protect my home, but now I want to get out of this hell.”

The fighting has reduced Zinjibar, once home to more than 50,000 people, to a ghost town without power or running water.

Health official Alhadar Alsaidi said disease was spreading from dead bodies on the streets and wild dogs eating them. “I call on local and international health organizations to help us removing bodies from the streets and burying them,” he said.

The Yemeni army said this week it had killed 30 militants in Zinjibar, where a local official said 15 soldiers had also died in battles for the town seized by gunmen nearly two weeks ago.

Some of Saleh’s opponents have accused the president of deliberately letting al Qaeda militants take over Zinjibar to demonstrate the security risks if he were to lose power.

The volatile situation in Yemen, which lies on oil shipping lanes, alarms Western nations and neighboring oil giant Saudi Arabia, who fear that chaos would give al Qaeda free rein there.

They see Saleh’s absence as an opportunity to secure his exit after nearly 33 years ruling the poorest Arab state.

The United States and Britain have called for a peaceful, orderly transition in Yemen, based on a Gulf-brokered plan.

There was no clear word on Saleh’s health.

“I visited him yesterday evening and he was good. He talked to us and asked about the Yemeni expatriates and he is better than the others who were injured. He is very good and talks. He was sitting on a chair,” said Taha al-Hemyari, head of Yemeni community affairs at the Yemeni embassy in Riyadh.

A Saudi doctor familiar with Saleh’s case also said his burns were not as serious as some officials suggested, saying he may be able to leave Saudi Arabia in less than two weeks.

SEVERE BURNS?

The Yemeni embassy in Washington said in a statement Saleh’s health was improving and reiterated that his deputy Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was in charge in a caretaker capacity.

“President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s health condition is stable and continues to improve… President Saleh will return to Yemen … to reassume his duties soon after he recovers,” it said.

Yemeni and U.S. officials said Tuesday that Saleh was in a more serious condition with burns over roughly 40 percent of his body. Saudi newspaper al-Watan cited a Yemeni diplomat on Wednesday as saying another operation on Saleh was possible.

Saleh was initially said to have been hit by shrapnel and Hadi said Monday the president would return within days.

Forty percent burns would mean Saleh’s life could be in danger: “Somebody of that age, with that percentage of burns, has got a pretty poor prognosis, especially if these are full thickness burns,” Brendan Eley, chief executive of the Healing Foundation at Britain’s Royal College of Surgeons.

Saudi officials say it is up to Saleh whether he returns home but they, and their Western allies, may want to revive a Gulf-brokered transition deal under which the Yemeni leader would quit in return for immunity from prosecution.

Yemen said a donation of three million barrels of crude oil from Saudi King Abdullah had arrived in Aden Wednesday.

Thousands of protesters, who have been in the streets since February demanding Saleh quit, gathered at his vice president’s residence Tuesday. They want him formally to assume power in order to effect Saleh’s final removal from office.

Troops loyal to army general Ali Mohsen, who has sided with the protesters, shot into the air in an effort to persuade them to leave, but the activists stayed put.

(Additional reporting by Martina Fuchs, Mohammed Ghobari, Reem Shamseddine, Kate Kelland and Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay; writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Alistair Lyon and Alastair Macdonald)

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Yemen on brink of civil war as clashes spread

Posted by Admin on May 28, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110527/wl_nm/us_yemen

By Samia Nakhoul and Mohammed Ghobari Fri May 27, 4:16 pm ET

SANAA (Reuters) – Yemeni tribesmen said they wrested a military compound from elite troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh outside the capital Sanaa on Friday as fighting spread, threatening to tip the country into civil war.

Yemeni fighter jets broke the sound barrier as they swooped over Sanaa, where battles between Saleh loyalists and the Hashed tribal alliance led by Sadeq al-Ahmar erupted this week after failure of a deal to ease the president out.

Clashes spread northeast of Sanaa on Friday, where tribes said in addition to seizing a military post in the Nahm region, they were also fighting government troops at two other positions south of the capital.

In Sanaa, tens of thousands of people gathered after Friday prayers for what they branded a “Friday of Peaceful Revolution” against Saleh, releasing white doves and carrying the coffins of about 30 people killed in clashes this week.

Tens of thousands turned out for the rally, inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, though their numbers had dwindled compared to previous weeks after thousands fled Sanaa and the government closed roads around the city to keep out tribes trying to reinforce the Ahmars.

Machinegun fire and sporadic blasts rattled the city before fighting eased after mediation efforts. Ahmar’s fighters evacuated government ministry buildings they had grabbed this week in return for a ceasefire and troops quitting their area.

“We are now in mediation and there has been a ceasefire between the two sides,” Ahmar, close to an Islamist opposition party, told protesters in “Change Square.” “But if Ali Abdullah Saleh returns (to fighting) then we are ready. We are steadfast and victorious.”

“We wanted it (revolution) to be peaceful but Saleh, his sons and his clique wanted war. We will not leave them the opportunity to turn it into a civil war,” Ahmar told Reuters.

But in a sign of hostility between the sides, a government source ridiculed Ahmar for his grandiose statements, saying the state had taught him a “small lesson” and urging him and “his gangs” to turn themselves in to face justice.

Battles this week, the worst since protests began in January, killed around 115 people and let Saleh grab back the initiative, overshadowing the protest movement with the threat of civil war. Yet protesters were determined to see him go.

“We are here to renew our resolve for a peaceful revolution. We reject violence or being dragged into civil war,” said Yahya Abdulla at the anti-Saleh protest camp, where armed vehicles were deployed to protect those praying.

A few kilometres (miles) away, government loyalists staged a short rally, waving Yemeni flags and pictures of Saleh, who has ruled the Arabian Peninsula state for nearly 33 years.

Worries are growing that Yemen, already a safe haven for al Qaeda and on the verge of financial ruin, could become a failed state that would erode regional security and pose a serious risk to neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter.

The United States and Saudi Arabia, both targets of foiled attacks by a wing of al Qaeda based in Yemen, are concerned any spread of anarchy could embolden the militant group.

BATTLE AT MILITARY COMPOUND

In Nahm, 100 km (60 miles) northeast of Sanaa, a tribal leader said fierce fighting over three military posts killed 19 and wounded dozens. He said tribesmen had seized one post and were battling for two more as military planes bombed the area.

“There had been some skirmishes between the tribesmen supporting the youth revolution from time to time, but today it became a big armed confrontation,” Sheikh Hamid Asim said.

He had earlier said anti-Saleh fighters killed the commander of the military post they seized. A separate tribal source said the Yemeni air force dropped bombs to prevent the tribesmen from seizing an arms cache there.

The defense ministry blamed the opposition coalition, comprised of Islamists and leftists, for the fighting in Nahm. State television, citing a military source, denied any posts were seized. “These are lies with no basis in truth,” Yemen TV quoted him as saying.

If confirmed, the Republican Guard’s loss of a military post to tribesmen armed with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades would be an embarrassing setback for Saleh, whose country has become the poorest in the region.

Mediators have been increasingly exasperated with Saleh, saying he had repeatedly imposed new conditions each time a Gulf-led transition agreement was due for signing, mostly recently demanding a public signing ceremony.

Leaders of the G8 leading industrialized nations called on Saleh to step down during a summit in France, but analysts said global powers have little leverage in Yemen, located on a shipping lane through which 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.

FEAR OF CIVIL WAR

Sanaa residents had been streaming out of the capital by the thousands to escape escalating violence in recent days. Others stocked up on essentials and waited in trepidation.

“There is absolute poverty because of this regime. We want change,” said Abdulrahman al-Fawli, 42, an engineer. “But I’m terrified of civil war. I dread this prospect.”

The recent fighting between tribal fighters and loyalists has ignored a commitment to peaceful demonstrations by protesters, many of whom are sceptical about the vested interests of both sides in the armed conflict.

“Saleh and his forces and the al-Ahmar tribe cannot make the civilian state that the protesters want. They stole the limelight of the revolution and undermined it with their fighting,” said Ali Mohammed Subaihy, a doctor.

In the south, dozens of armed men believed to be from al Qaeda stormed into the city of Zinjibar in the flashpoint province of Abyan, chasing out security forces while seizing several government buildings and setting off blasts in others, residents said.

The army had withdrawn from Zinjibar after a battle with militants in March, but later regained control.

Friday’s violence, which killed at least seven people including a civilian, sent hundreds of families fleeing their neighborhoods as shelling continued and warplanes roared overhead. Smoke billowed from a military building.

Similar clashes broke out in Lawdar, also in the south, a government official said.

Saleh has said his removal would be a boon to al Qaeda, but the opposition, which includes the Islamist party Islah, accuses him of exploiting militancy to keep his foreign backing and argues that it would be better placed to fight al Qaeda.

Washington, which long treated Saleh as an ally against al Qaeda, has said it now wants him to go. Saleh’s attempts to stop protests by force have so far killed around 280 people.

(Additional reporting by Mohamed Sudam and Khaled al-Mahdy in Sanaa, Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden, Erika Solomon in Dubai and from Barbara Lewis in Geneva; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Louise Ireland)

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