Sunday, July 3, 2011

Yemen Republican Guards killed in clashes

SANAA — Four Yemeni Republican Guards were killed in clashes with anti-regime gunmen in Taez Saturday, witnesses and tribal sources said, as 79 people were referred to court over a March massacre in the capital.

Fifty Yemeni soldiers were also reported missing around the southern city of Zinjibar, a commander said, accusing top brass of abandoning them to Al-Qaeda.

The fighting in Taez between the Republican Guards and "defenders of the revolution" against President Ali Abdullah Saleh began on Saturday morning and was still continuing in the evening, witnesses said.

The clashes erupted when the Guards tried to enter a new area in the north of Taez, they said. Six houses were also destroyed in the fighting.

Taez has been a centre of protests calling for the departure of Saleh, who has been in power since 1978.

The UN human rights office said that more than 50 people were killed in Yemen's second-largest city in a crackdown on protesters over several days in late May.

Then in early June, a top tribal chief said that armed dissidents had seized control of most of Taez, following clashes with troops loyal to Saleh.

"I consider Taez to have fallen under the control" of the dissidents, Sheikh Hammoud Saeed al-Mikhlafi, the head of the tribal council in Taez, told AFP by telephone.

He said that tribal gunmen have been deployed in the city to "protect the peaceful (anti-regime) demonstrators" after they faced "genocide" by pro-Saleh security forces last week.

Meanwhile, Yemen's official Saba news reported on Saturday that 79 people have been referred to court for alleged involvement in the March 18 massacre of 52 people in Sanaa near the site of an anti-regime sit in.

"The prosecutor general today (Saturday) referred 79 accused to court... for killing and wounding a number of citizens in the university area of the capital on March 18, 2011," Saba cited a source in the prosecutor's office as saying.

It did not elaborate on the identities of the suspects or the charges against them.

Witnesses said that on March 18, pro-Saleh "thugs" had sprayed bullets from rooftops around a square at Sanaa University, the centre of demonstrations seeking the end of Saleh's rule.

Many of the victims were shot in the head and more than 120 people were wounded, medics said, in scenes that drew widespread condemnation from Western powers and human rights groups.

Also on Saturday, a Yemeni commander said that 50 soldiers were missing in south Yemen after clashes with Islamist militants.

"We have lost all trace of 50 soldiers after an attack by Al-Qaeda elements enabled them to recapture control of the Al-Wahda stadium" outside Zinjibar, the commander serving with the 25th Mechanised Brigade told AFP on condition of anonymity.

He did not know if the troops had been killed, captured or had deserted in the battle for the stadium which the army recaptured from the militants on Friday.

The commander accused the defence ministry of abandoning the brigade's soldiers to their fate in the face of repeated attacks by militants of the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic Law) movement who seized much of Zinjibar in late May.

The Sanaa government says the militants in Zinjibar are allied with Al-Qaeda, but the opposition accuses it of playing up a jihadist threat in a desperate attempt to keep Saleh in power.

Saleh has been a key US ally in its "war on terror," but has faced mass protests against his rule since January and is currently being treated in neighbouring Saudi Arabia for wounds suffered in a bomb attack on his palace.

The ancestral homeland of slain jihadist leader Osama bin Laden, Yemen is the home of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, an affiliate of the global network accused of anti-US plots, including an attempt to blow up a US-bound aircraft on Christmas Day 2009.

Near the main southern city of Aden, troops fired on a vehicle they considered suspect on Saturday, killing a civilian police identified as Nafee Bakchi and wounding four.

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