Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rival forces clash in Yemen capital

Sana'a, September 29, 2011

Fierce clashes erupted in Yemen's capital on Thursday between troops loyal to embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh and forces led by defected General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a day after tribesmen downed a warplane.

The firefights broke out in north Sanaa between forces from the elite Republican Guard, led by Saleh's son Ahmed, and soldiers from Ahmar's First Armoured Division, which provides protection for anti-Saleh protesters, witnesses said.

Republican Guard forces based in Amran Street were locked in a heavy exchange of fire with dissident troops deployed in Thalathine Street near Change Square where protesters demanding Saleh's ouster have camped for months, witnesses said.

They said heavy shelling believed to be coming from Republican Guard bases north of the capital was targeting a residential neighbourhood near state television, with residents pleading for help and to be spared.

Earlier on Thursday, loyalist troops clashed with Ahmar tribesmen in Al-Hasaba, in renewed fighting with the influential tribe whose leader Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar has sided with the protesters.

The gunbattle erupted a day after other tribesmen fighting the Republican Guard north of Sanaa shot down a fighter jet.

The military held opposition leaders responsible for downing the Sukhoi SU-22 near Arhab, 40 kilometres (26 miles) north of Sanaa, a region that is the northern gateway into Sanaa.

It also follows a large protest on Wednesday when hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated near Sanaa's Change Square, demanding Saleh's ouster and trial.

Saleh, who is under international pressure to relinquish power and allow new elections, returned to the country on Friday, sparking violence in which scores of people have been killed.

The 69-year-old president has repeatedly refused to sign a power transfer deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) under which he would hand over to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi in return for immunity from prosecution.

Hadi warned on Wednesday of civil war in the troubled country, in a meeting with the ambassadors of the permanent member states of the UN Security Council, the European Union and the GCC.

He said the current high level of tension "poses a direct threat to the general situation" in Yemen, the state news agency Saba reported.

"If the situation explodes, the (GCC) initiative would end, as well as all (proposed) peaceful solutions, and Yemen would enter the danger zone of descending into civil war," he said.

In other unrest, one civilian was killed and five others were wounded in overnight bombing in Taez, Yemen's second largest city that is also the scene of continuing massive anti-Saleh protests.

Meanwhile, youth groups said they plan to march on Thursday from their encampment at Change Square in north Sanaa to the south of the city where Saleh's residence is located.

"There will be an escalation during the coming two days. The youths will march... to Hedda Street, where the president's residence is," Walid al-Amari, a leading activist from the youth revolution committee, told AFP.

He said protesters want a peaceful march and have asked the leadership of the defected First Armoured Division not to provide any armed protection that could provoke Saleh loyalists.

"We have asked the troops of the First Division not to accompany us," he said.

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