Sunday, September 25, 2011

Yemen faces civil war, dissident general says

Sudarsan Raghavan

September 25, 2011

SANAA: Tensions between Yemen's President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and an influential dissident general have risen amid fresh assaults that killed at least 40 people and injured scores.

The mounting violence on Saturday came a day after Mr Saleh abruptly returned from Saudi Arabia after nearly four months and called for a cease-fire and a return to negotiations to solve Yemen's crisis.

In a sternly worded statement, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, whose forces control many parts of the capital, warned that Mr Saleh was propelling the country towards civil war and urged the United States, Yemen's Persian Gulf neighbours and the international community to stop him.

General Mohsen called Mr Saleh ''ignorant and bloodthirsty'' and likened him to the Roman emperor Nero, burning down his own city.

''With his return, Yemen is experiencing sweeping chaos, and the harbingers of a crushing civil war which this ignorant man is determined to ignite,'' he said in the statement.

He urged the international community to ''deter him, stop his irresponsible actions where he intends to ignite a civil war that would bring down the whole country and have repercussions on the whole region and on world peace''.

General Mohsen's statement - his strongest public rebuke of Mr Saleh since Yemen's populist uprising began in February - came shortly after mortar shells fell on the main base of his 1st Armoured Division, killing 11 troops and injuring more than 100, General Mohsen's aides said. Suspicion fell on forces loyal to Mr Saleh who have battled General Mohsen's troops over the past six days in Sanaa.

In another part of the capital, government forces attacked Change Square - a sprawling camp where activists have staged an eight-month sit-in to end Mr Saleh's 33-year reign - with mortar shells and heavy gunfire in Saturday's pre-dawn darkness. Rooftop snipers shot at protesters and General Mohsen's soldiers protecting the square.

General Mohsen defected in March after snipers loyal to Mr Saleh killed dozens of protesters.

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