Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Yemen premier convenes Cabinet after return

Sept 6, 2011

(AP) SANAA, Yemen — Yemen's prime minister on Tuesday conducted his first Cabinet meeting since returning from Saudi Arabia for treatment for wounds he suffered in the same June attack that seriously injured the country's embattled president.

Ali Mohammed Mujawar, who returned to Yemen last week, presided over the Cabinet meeting in a symbolic show of defiance by President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government. Saleh is still in Saudi Arabia, rebuffing international pressure to step down.

Yemen's political infighting has spurred al-Qaida activity in southern Yemen. On Tuesday, four soldiers and six militant were killed in clashes there.

Mujawar is a key Saleh ally, and his return to activity underlines the president's determination to retain power despite months of huge, sometimes violent demonstrations demanding his resignation — and the June 3 bombing of his compound that forced him to leave for Saudi Arabia for treatment.

He has repeatedly rejected a proposal by neighboring Gulf countries to transfer his powers to his vice president. The most recent rejection of the Gulf initiative came on Tuesday by members of Yemen's parliament, controlled by Saleh's party. Saleh's refusal to approve the deal prompted Qatar to recall its ambassador, as thousands of anti-Saleh protesters continue to take to the streets demanding his resignation.

Yemen's political turmoil has allowed militants to take control of parts of the southern Yemen. In recent weeks, government troops backed by U.S. airstrikes have stepped up their attacks on the militants.

Western nations view al-Qaida's branch in Yemen as one of the group's most violent and dangerous.

On Tuesday, Yemeni officials said four soldiers and six militants were killed in clashes in the southern province of Abyan.

Another 12 gunmen and 15 security personnel were injured in those clashes, including three colonels, an official said.

The clashes took place just west of Abyan's capital city, Zinjibar, which is under the control of al-Qaida-linked militants. The lack of security in Zinjibar has sent over 100,000 residents fleeing for refuge in nearby towns.

Officials said gunmen torched several military vehicles in Tuesday's clashes in the town of el-Sima and mined roads leading to Zinjibar.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

The clashes came one day after witnesses and an official said warplanes killed at least seven civilians and a dozen militants. The air raids destroyed a mosque and a hospital.

Around 180 soldiers and over 300 militants were killed in fighting between May and August, according to the Interior Ministry.

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