Monday, May 30, 2011

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.

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