Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Yemen security official: Islamists kill 5 soldiers

By AHMED AL-HAJ Associated Press

May 31, 2011

SANAA, Yemen — Radical Islamists who overran a south Yemen town killed five soldiers in an ambush on Tuesday, security officials said, while fresh clashes broke out in the capital between security forces and fighters from the country's most powerful tribal confederation, edging the country toward civil war.

Almost four months of mass street protests across Yemen calling for democratic reforms and the ouster of longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh have rocked the stability of this impoverished corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Saleh's security forces shot dead four protesters in the southern city of Taiz Monday, medics said, bringing the two-day death toll there to at least 25.

The upheaval in Yemen has sparked fears that militant groups will take over. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula operates in its weakly governed provinces along with a number of other radicals, like the ones who overran the town of Zinjibar near Yemen's south coast over the weekend.

A Yemeni security official said militants ambushed an army unit driving toward the town Tuesday, killing five soldiers and injuring 12. The militants fired on the army convoy from behind, forcing them to speed into an ambush where other gunmen fired on their cars.

The soldiers killed two militants before fleeing the area, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Hundreds of armed Islamists stormed the town last week, seizing banks and government offices before setting up barricades to solidify their control. Shelling by army units outside the city failed to dislodge them over the weekend while sending residents fleeing.

Resident Hilmi Ali, 21, said army shelling over the weekend appeared to fall randomly over the town, striking a mosque and four houses in his neighborhood and killing seven of his neighbors.

The Islamists overran a police administration building and intelligence office and could be seen over the weekend driving police cars around town, Ali said. Dozens of families fled.

"We walked on our feet to leave the city," he said by phone from the city of Aden.

It remains unclear whether the Islamists who seized Zinjibar are connected to al-Qaida. Other armed Islamist groups have sought refuge in the area, including some who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and others who fought with Saleh's government in a 1994 civil war with the south.

Before Tuesday's ambush, the Interior Ministry said 22 soldiers had been killed since Friday. It remains unclear how many civilians and militants have been killed.

In the capital, Sanaa, fresh gunfights and rounds of artillery fire broke out Tuesday between government troops and fighters loyal to the country's most powerful tribal leader, marking the collapse of a fragile cease-fire.

The fighting brings head-to-head two of Yemen's most powerful men: Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, head of the country's Hasid tribal confederation and Saleh, who has heavily stocked the security forces with relatives and allies during his 33-year rule.

Clashes resumed overnight after the failure of a days-old cease-fire that ended last week's clashes, which killed 124 people. Tribal fighters withdrew Sunday from the Local Administration Ministry, one of more than a dozen ministries and government buildings they'd seized in the Hassaba neighborhood, also home to the family compound of Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, the Hasid leader.

Abdel-Qawi al-Qasi, a spokesman for al-Ahmar, said that Saleh's force broke the agreement by not withdrawing from buildings they had occupied, especially those around al-Amhar's house.

Clashes erupted early Tuesday and continued through the morning, with tribal fighters seizing a number of new buildings, including the upper house of parliament, the headquarters of Saleh's ruling party and a key street leading to the airport.

"Any place that poses any danger to us and they are firing at us from, we will take it," al-Qasi said.

Al-Qasi said the tribesmen had also seized the Interior Ministry. Yemeni state TV called the fighters "gangs" and denied they'd seized the building.

At least one person was killed — a man who was driving through the neighborhood, said witness Abdel-Waid Ali. Official information on casualties was not immediately available.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh has clung to power despite daily protests, defections by key allies and intense pressure from the United States and powerful neighbors like Saudi Arabia to transfer his powers.

His security forces have waged a brutal crackdown that has included sniper attacks on unarmed protesters, and he has several times pledged to step down under a deal with the opposition only to back out at the last minute.

Beyond the capital, violence also roiled the southern city of Taiz, which has been a hotbed of anti-government protests since the early days of the uprising.

Medics said government troops fired on protesters Tuesday, killing four and bringing the two-day death toll to at least 25.

Soldiers backed by tanks and bulldozers moved in over the weekend, smashing a tent camp the protesters had held in a central square and destroying a field hospital that had been set up in anticipation of such an attack.

On Tuesday, the U.N.'s human rights office in Geneva said it received reports from Yemen that more than 50 people have been killed by pro-government forces in Taiz since Sunday. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay cautioned that the reports "remain to be fully verified."

Pillay said in a statement that "such reprehensible acts of violence and indiscriminate attacks on unarmed civilians by armed security officers must stop immediately."

Government forces opened fire again Tuesday on demonstrators who had regrouped for marches on several main streets, said activist Boushra al-Maqtali.

Protesters set fire to tires and threw stones at the police, who fired rubber bullets, live ammunition and tear gas to disperse them, said another activist, Ghazi al-Samie.

"The city is boiling," al-Samie said. "All shops have been closed and government employees did not go to work and armored military vehicles blocked all the roads leading to the city to prevent people from nearing districts to join the protesters."

Cease-Fire in Yemen Capital Breaks Down


May 31, 2011

SANA, Yemen — The field of battle expanded again in Yemen on Tuesday as a cease-fire between government forces and opposition tribesmen in the capital broke down, renewing fears that the country’s continuing political stalemate could drag it into civil war.

The fighting came a day after the government pounded a major coastal city with airstrikes to dislodge Islamic militants and, to the west, smashed the country’s largest antigovernment demonstration in clashes that killed at least 20 protesters.

Artillery explosions and machine-gun fire echoed across the center of the capital, Sana, late Monday and Tuesday morning as fierce fighting shattered a tenuous truce that lasted less than two days.

Black smoke rose over the Hasaba neighborhood as security forces attacked a compound belonging to the family of Hamid al-Ahmar, the strongest tribal rival of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and tribesmen loyal to the Ahmars retook a government building near the compound that they had vacated as part of the truce deal on Sunday.

Violence broke out in Sana a week ago after Mr. Saleh refused to follow through on his promise to sign an agreement leading to his resignation following months of street protests against his rule. It was the third time since the uprising began in January that Mr. Saleh had agreed to transfer power, and the third time that he had reneged.

Both sides blamed the other for breaking the cease-fire as fighting flared in Hasaba, where many government ministries are located. Witnesses said a local police station was burned to the ground before dawn on Tuesday. The two sides traded artillery fire near the state-run television headquarters.

“Last night’s clashes were the fiercest so far,” Mohammed al-Quraiti, a neighborhood resident, told Reuters. “My children and I couldn’t sleep all night because of the heavy shooting.”

Street battles in the capital reopened a central front for Yemen’s security forces, which have moved forcefully to contain a diverse group of distinct opponents, including tribal fighters, militant Islamists and nonviolent antigovernment protesters.

The latter group found themselves the target of a harsh crackdown in the city of Taiz late Sunday and early Monday as security forces and plainclothes gunmen swept through a main square, dispersing the thousands of protesters seeking the ouster of Mr. Saleh. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said it had received reports that as many as 50 people were killed in the ensuing clashes, The Associated Press reported. The United States Embassy in Sana condemned the “unprovoked and unjustified attack.”

On Tuesday, protest leaders responded to the crackdown with calls for mass demonstrations. “We are determined to carry our protests to five squares instead of the one that was cleared,” said Riyadh Adeeb, an activist in the city. “We will know how to defend ourselves this time.”

A large number of Republican Guard troops deployed around the city and were using gunfire to scatter those who tried to protest, witnesses in the city said. By the late afternoon, more than 100 women had massed in a central square, challenging security forces nearby to use force against them, a breech of social norms. “This place, Wadi al Qadhi, may become the new sit-in square if women stand firm in their place,” Mr. Adeeb said.

But the opposition women were soon dispersed by female police officers and women supporters of Mr. Saleh, a witness said; there were no reports of injuries.

In the southern coastal city of Zinjibar, five Yemeni soldiers died in fighting on Tuesday, Yemen’s state-run television reported. Hundreds have fled the city where Islamic militants took control over the weekend.

Nasser Arrabyee reported from Sana, and J. David Goodman from New York.

Monday, May 30, 2011

'West mulls replacing Yemen's Saleh'

May 30, 2011
Interview with Stephen Lendam, writer and radio host from Chicago
As the US is leading a joint military drill with Persian Gulf Arab monarchies amidst popular uprisings against the same Arab states, we're discussing why the "Club of Kings" is being accused of forging a counterrevolution.
In an interview with Stephen Lendam, Press TV discussed the attitude of the West, particularly the United States and Saudi Arabia towards the change of regime in Yemen.
PressTV: Media reports say Saudi Arabia is presenting the US with a choice between its values and interests and that the US should make the right historical decision but hasn't the US already made that choice because in the case of Bahrain we heard that Saudi Arabia sent tanks and troops to Bahrain two days after US Defense Secretary Robert Gates left Manama.
Lendman: Indeed hypocrisy is gross, the double standard is glaring and I would say America is the dog that really wags in the Middle East and the Saudis are deeply involved. Britain, France are also deeply involved and they absolutely want to deter democracy and deter uprising movements. The very notion of democracy terrifies these countries. I think it's a losing struggle with their waging. They are buying time. They will defuse the uprisings. The uprisings in the Middle East are really glorious, but I wrote an article and I said the Arab Spring is yet to bloom, indeed it is yet to bloom, but it will bloom because the courage of the people from Morocco to Oman to Yemen to Bahrain to Saudi Arabia to Kuwait, Algeria, the courage is really extraordinary and people persist no matter what terror is unleashed against them, including the power of the West against them. And the Libyan people will soon discover, once Gaddafi is gone, they will get the same brutality that the Bahrainis are getting now and the other people are getting now and they will rebel against that and there will be another uprising, a real popular uprising for change.
PressTV: Some say Riyadh thinks the opposition in Yemen might prove a more reliable, less unruly southern neighbor. Others suggest it supports defected Hashid tribe leader Sadeq Ahmar while one senior Saudi cleric says groups like the Houthis and the Muslim Brotherhood should not take power there. What kind of support do you think Saudi Arabia will give to the president there or rather to the opposition there?
Lendman: Certainly the Saudis are very concerned and they have been in Yemen for sometime including at least a couple of years ago at the behest of Washington during the Bush years, bombing the rebel areas. The CIA has been there underground; US Special forces have been there underground. But I believe America is calling the shots and don't forget that Saudis are very dependent on America for their security while the Saudis are putting money to buy all weapons they want and they buy them from Britain; they buy most of them from America. What regime America and the Saudis may have in mind, I don't know, I don't know the names of these people, but I do believe that the feeling generally has been for some weeks now that Saleh is damaging and he needs to go but he needs to be replaced with one friendly to the West, that the West can control, mainly America.
America is the ruling force in the Middle East and the Saudis obviously have their own concerns and their main concern is their survival. They better leave on America if they want their survival preserved. But sooner or later they will run in trouble. I think there will be regime change in Yemen, but the struggle may grow because it may not be the kind of regime replacing Saleh that the people want and just like in Egypt they got rid of Mubarak. Egyptians discovered they have not wanted them back in streets again protesting. The military is brutalizing them. The Yemenis will discover the same thing if Saleh goes, because another regime will come in, just as repressive. So the struggle goes on. I think the people in Yemen will prevail that this will go on for many months.

Yemen Unrest Spreads South

By HAKIM ALMASMARI in San'a, Yemen, and MARGARET COKER in Abu Dhabi
A fresh armed uprising against Yemen's embattled president has erupted in the country's third-largest city, pitting well-armed Islamic fundamentalist tribal fighters against forces loyal to embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his relatives, expanding the unrest from the capital in the north to the southern reaches of the nation.
The new front against President Saleh in Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, kicked off over the weekend when armed Islamists from the mountains outside the city moved in after hundreds of elite government units usually stationed there withdrew from their posts to bolster defenses elsewhere, the Defense Ministry said.
The security situation in Yemen has deteriorated rapidly over the past week, when political negotiations designed to end President Saleh's 33-year rule and allow him a dignified exit from office failed when he refused—for the third time—to sign the agreement hammered out among his aides, the political opposition and the international community. More than 150 people have died in clashes that have raged in San'a, the capital, a province north of the capital and now in the south in Abyan, which is one of the bastions of an al Qaeda cell prevalent in the country.
Zinjibar residents said fighters hail from local tribes which for years have lived outside of the central-government oversight. The group, which calls itself Ansar al-Sharia, or the Supporters of Islamic Law, isn't part of al Qaeda, residents say, but want to set up a fundamentalist Islamic emirate in the south, like the Taliban did in Afghanistan.
On Sunday, there was no sign that political negotiations had any possibility of being rekindled, and it is unclear how or if the international community can respond to the growing bloodshed. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia, both targets of Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, are concerned that the terrorist organization will take advantage of any civil war to increase its foothold and launch fresh attacks on international targets.
Armed fundamentalist fighters taking control of key cities like Zinjibar heighten that concern. Al Qaeda made a similar arrangement with the Taliban in Afghanistan during the 1990s, making common cause with coreligionists, which allowed Osama bin Laden to attack U.S. targets.
In Abyan on Sunday, residents said heavy clashes flared between the estimated 400 militants patrolling Zinjibar streets and Republican Guard units who have called in helicopter gunships to attack militant positions on the ground in attempts to regain control of the city.
It was impossible to confirm the total damage or deaths, but multiple residents on Sunday described horrifying scenes of urban warfare. They estimated that 200 homes were destroyed by the helicopter attacks, while medical personnel said at least 12 people were killed.
Most stores remained shuttered, and families cowered at home. Militants patrolling the city streets urged residents to stay inside while the attacks continue.
"Even if we are at home, we are scared that one bullet might enter through the window and kill a family member," said Salem Abdo, a Zinjibar resident. "Explosions are heard dozens of times every hour."
The fighting in the south escalated what had been a devolving situation in the north. On Friday, violent clashes between heavily armed tribesmen and government troops that rocked the Yemeni capital last week spread outside San'a. Now, at least three of Yemen's largest tribes are battling the central government forces, which are under the command of the president's son Ahmed and nephew Yahya.
A tribal militia opposed to President Saleh attacked military installations controlled by Republican Guards in the el-Fardha Nehem region, about 80 kilometers northeast of San'a, prompting the government to call in airstrikes, according to government and tribal sources.
Yemen is a primarily tribal community, particularly in rural areas, and loyalties to tribes runs deep. The Hashid tribe, one of the most powerful, commands hundreds of thousands of Yemenis and many of those are currently in the capital taking on government forces. In Fardha, another tribe controlled two Republican Guard bases as of Sunday, said government and tribal sources.
The uptick in violence has changed the nature of Yemen's protests—which like Egypt started as a peaceful call for transition— to a potentially dangerous armed-conflict scenario, as in Libya. When tribal blood is spilled, the tribal code of honor prioritizes revenge, and it is unclear how either President Saleh—or any possible successor—will be able to patch relations between these domestic constituents in the near future.
Critics accused President Saleh of allowing the militants to seize Zinjibar to distract from three months of mass protests calling for an end to his rule. Mr. Saleh has warned that without him, al Qaeda would seize control of Yemen.
The officials say militants seized tanks Saturday night after the governor, the security chief and the head of an army brigade left the town. Army units clashed with the militants outside the city. Medical officials said on Sunday that six civilians were killed.
Meanwhile, a Yemeni rights activist said on Sunday that a brigade of the powerful Republican Guard run by Mr. Saleh's son has defected to the opposition in a southern province. It is the first reported defection among the elite troops, which have been the core of Mr. Saleh's hold on power despite three months of massive street protests and defections by some military and tribal allies.
Activist Abdul-Rahman Ahmed said a letter from Brig. Gen. Ibrahim al-Jayfi, commander of the Guard's Ninth Brigade, was read to thousands of protesters in the provincial capital of Damar on Sunday.
Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar of the powerful Hashid tribal confederation, whose fighters battled Mr. Saleh's troops for five days last week, has called on the Guard to help topple Mr. Saleh. The clashes killed 124 people.
—Farnaz Fassihi in Beirut
contributed to this article.
Source: The Wall Street Journal

Witnesses Say Yemeni Troops Kill 20 Protesters

VOA News

May 30, 2011

Witnesses in southern Yemen say security forces have fired on opposition protesters in the city of Taiz, killing at least 20 people.

The witnesses said forces loyal to embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh stormed a protest camp Monday, as the government continued its crackdown on those calling for Saleh's ouster.

Several protesters were killed and dozens more wounded Sunday in Taiz when security forces and gunmen in civilian clothes opened fire on an opposition rally.

Meanwhile, a security official said Monday four soldiers have been killed and at least seven others wounded in an attack near Zinjibar, the third-largest city in Yemen. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack.

Residents in Zinjibar, Abyan's capital, said Monday Yemeni warplanes have carried out airstrikes against Islamist militants. Hundreds of militants have tightened their grip on the city as dissident generals accused Saleh of surrendering Abyan province to "terrorists."

Residents also reported heavy clashes Sunday between government troops and the estimated 400 militants who have occupied the city. Witnesses say the militants have taken over a number of banks and government offices.

The Wall Street Journal cites Zinjibar residents as saying the fighters belong to local tribes, which for years have lived outside central government oversight. The residents say the militants do not belong to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, but want to set up a fundamentalist Islamic emirate in the south.

Opposition figures accused Saleh of deliberately abandoning Zinjibar to the militants in order to sow chaos and frighten the general population in order to remain in power. The president has warned that, without him, al-Qaida would seize control of the impoverished Gulf nation.

General Abdullah Ali Elewa, a former defense minister and a leader of the breakaway forces, also called Sunday for army units to join in the fight to bring down the president.

He was one of nine opposition military officers who signed what they called "Statement Number One," which urged loyalist forces to stand with the "peaceful, popular revolution."

In a sign of Saleh's eroding support, a brigade of the powerful Republican Guard announced it had defected to the opposition Sunday. The reported defection is the first among the country's elite troops, run by one of Saleh's sons.

Several explosions were heard in the capital, Sana'a, late Sunday in the Hasaba district, where loyalist forces have battled opposition fighters of the Hashid federation - Yemen's most powerful tribal organization - loyal to chief Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar.

It is not clear whether the blasts meant an end to a truce that had begun to take hold in Sana'a after days of heavy fighting between the two sides.

Saleh has faced four months of almost daily public protests demanding an end to his near-33 year authoritarian rule. The recent fighting has raised concerns that the months-long uprising against Saleh could escalate into a civil war.

Kidnap theory credible for French aid workers in Yemen

* Aid workers disappeared in southern province

* Yemen in throes of civil unrest

PARIS, May 30 (Reuters) - France said on Monday it was credible that three aid workers who disappeared in Yemen at the weekend had been kidnapped, although it had still not received any claim of responsibility.

The workers disappeared in Yemen's southern province of Hadramout on Saturday and a local security official said on Saturday they were believed to have been kidnapped. [ID:nLDE74R0CB}

"With each passing hour, the assumption it is a kidnapping gains credibility," Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said. "But without a claim of responsibility, it is still to early to draw definitive conclusions."

The three work for Lyon-based Triangle Generation Humanitaire in the Arabian Peninsula country, which has been in the grip of civil unrest for months.

Kidnappings of Western tourists or workers by tribes seeking ransom or concessions from the government have been frequent in Yemen, one of the poorest Arab countries. Most of the hostages have been freed unharmed.

France has nine nationals already held overseas including four in the Sahel region, two in Afghanistan, two in Ivory Coast and one in Somalia.