Bloomberg News

Heavy Fighting in Yemen’s Capital as Saleh Seeks to Retain Power

June 02, 2011

June 3 (Bloomberg) -- Explosions and heavy gunfire shook Yemen’s capital overnight as shelling set ablaze the Yemenia Airways office close to the home of opposition tribal leader Sadiq al-Ahmar.

Fighting in Sana’a between President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s security forces and supporters of al-Ahmar, leader of the Hashid, Yemen’s most influential tribe, intensified as it continued into a fifth day after the breakdown of a truce mediated by tribal leaders.

Men in plain clothes opened fire on protesters gathered in a square near Sana’a University, wounding at least six, Mohammed Saeed, a protester, said by telephone. Soldiers from the First Armored Division, who defected to the opposition and are protecting the protesters at the site, fired back, he said. There was no immediate report from hospitals on the number killed in the latest clashes around the city.

In fighting the previous night, 15 people, including soldiers, civilians and tribesmen, were killed, according to a doctor at a Sana’a hospital. He spoke yesterday on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the media.

Security forces and gunmen clashed yesterday in Yemen’s southern city of Taiz. Bushra al-Maktari, an activist in Taiz, said the gunmen came from the countryside and “were angry” at a government attack on anti-Saleh protesters that began May 28 and lasted until the early hours of May 30. At least 21 people were killed in that crackdown.

Scores Killed

Scores of people have been killed since the conflict between Saleh’s loyalists and al-Ahmar’s men broke out last week. The violence followed Saleh’s refusal to sign a Western- backed accord brokered by Gulf countries requiring him to give up power within 30 days.

Security forces have repelled an attempt by tribesmen loyal to al-Ahmar outside Sana’a to join forces with his fighters in the capital, the Defense Ministry said on its website. It also said that special anti-terrorism forces, trained by the U.S., are involved in the fighting near the ministries of tourism and commerce.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Saleh’s refusal to sign. “His presence remains a source of great conflict,” she said at the State Department June 1. “We cannot expect this conflict to end unless President Saleh and his government move out of the way.”

President Barack Obama sent John Brennan, his top counterterrorism adviser, this week to meet with government officials in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both members of the Gulf Cooperation Council that sponsored the accord, to discuss options in Yemen.

Pressuring Saleh

“He’s obviously working with our allies in the region to see what can be done to persuade President Saleh to follow the agreement he made to sign the accord and to begin the transfer of power immediately,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in Washington.

Saleh’s government has warned that rising social unrest threatens to strengthen al-Qaeda, a concern also expressed by the U.S. The group has sought to use Yemen, the poorest Arab nation, as a base from which to destabilize neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of crude oil, and for attempted attacks on international targets including two U.S. synagogues last year.

The two sides have blamed each other for breaking a cease- fire that briefly halted three days of fighting last week.

The violence has overshadowed the protests calling on Saleh to step down, which have been taking place daily for four months. In a May 25 briefing with reporters, Saleh called the demonstrations a rebellion against his rule.

--Editors: Terry Atlas, Ann Hughey.

To contact the reporter on this story: Donna Abu Nasr in Dubai at dabunasr@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net


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