Saturday, April 9, 2011

Yemen general denies eye on presidency

By Hammoud Mounassar (AFP)

SANAA, Apr 9, 2011- General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who has sided with anti-regime demonstrators, denied having his sights set on the presidency as doctors on Saturday raised to four the death toll from Yemen's latest protests.

Ahmar, who commands Yemen's northwest military district including Sana'a, pledged in late March to defend the protesters, who have pressed since January for President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ouster.

"The army will be under the control of civilians, and I do not seek any position of power," Ahmar told an envoy from UN chief Ban Ki-moon, according to an overnight statement from the general's office.

"The army has merely responded to the call of the people who wished to protect the protesters from killings, repression and terror exercised by the regime, certain security services and the Republican Guard," Ahmar said.

Ahmar and other generals, top tribal and religious leaders and a number of other officials have defected, but key parts of the security forces commanded by Saleh's family members, such as the Republican Guard, have remained loyal.

Meanwhile, doctors said Yemeni security forces shot dead four protesters and wounded 116 in the flashpoint city of Taez in clashes that broke out early on Friday and continued into the following morning.

In addition to those killed and wounded by gunfire, 650 people suffered from tear gas inhalation, said the medics at a field hospital set up near the site of an anti-government sit-in in the city, south of the capital.

Witnesses had said on Friday that two people were killed and dozens wounded when security forces fired live rounds at the protesters massed near Al-Hurriya (Liberty) Square.

Clashes lasted until about 3:00 am on Saturday (0000 GMT), with demonstrators attempting to take over a provincial government building near the square.

Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, on Friday rejected a deal proposed by Qatar on behalf of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council for him to step down, calling it a "blatant interference in Yemeni affairs".

But his office later said he was still open to mediation.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said on Thursday that GCC members "hope to reach a deal with the Yemeni president to step down".

The United States, which has cooperated closely with Saleh in its fight against Al-Qaeda, on Friday urged all sides in Yemen to engage in an "urgently needed dialogue" on a political transition.

"The United States welcomes the initiative of the Gulf Coordination Council (GCC) to address the challenging political situation in Yemen," the State Department said.

"We strongly encourage all sides to engage in this urgently needed dialogue to reach a solution supported by the Yemeni people."

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