Thursday, March 24, 2011

Yemen shuts Al-Jazeera offices; journalists beaten

New York, March 24, 2011--Yemeni authorities today ordered Al-Jazeera's offices shut and its journalists stripped of accreditation, escalating a week-long series of reprisals against the station that has included beatings, expulsions, raids, and death threats. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the government's decision to shut Al-Jazeera and urges authorities to reverse the order immediately.
Saeed Thabit, Al-Jazeera's Yemen bureau chief, said a Ministry of Information official informed him of the closure by phone but provided no specific reason. Abdu al-Gindi, Yemen's deputy minister of information, said in an Al-Jazeera interview that the station had turned into "a channel that incites revolutions." News accounts cited unnamed government sources as asserting that Al-Jazeera misidentified a short clip of prison violence as being from Yemen, a claim the station did not immediately address.
The station has been providing extensive coverage of the weeks-long popular uprising that has threatened President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year reign. The closing of the station's offices comes two days after about 20 plainclothes gunmen raided Al-Jazeera's Sana'a bureau. The gunmen, whose faces were obscured by head scarves, confiscated equipment and obstructed operations while uniformed police stood by and took no action, Al-Jazeera journalists said. On Saturday, authorities expelled two Al-Jazeera correspondents.
On Wednesday, government supporters attacked Al-Jazeera cameraman Mujib al-Suwailah as he filmed demonstrations in Ta'iz, Yemen's third-largest city, Thabit told CPJ. The assault was so severe that it broke al-Suwailah's arm, causing the radius bone to penetrate the skin. He underwent surgery today and remains in the hospital, Thabit said.
On Saturday, plainclothes men assaulted cameraman Walid al-Miqtari in front of the channel's Sana'a office, Thabit told CPJ. They kicked and punched him repeatedly, took his camera and identification papers, and threatened him with additional violence if he continued to report for the station. "You and the others at Al-Jazeera deserve to be slaughtered," the attackers told al-Miqtari.
Al-Jazeera employees have reported numerous death threats and threats of physical violence against themselves and their families. The latest threat was made by an anonymous caller to Ahmad al-Shalafi, one of the station's chief correspondents in Sana'a, and was directed at his children. "We are in hiding now, in various places throughout Yemen; we are not in our own homes. There are people looking for us and wishing to do us harm," Thabit told CPJ.
"The government and its supporters have engaged for two months now in escalating levels of obstruction, physical violence, and naked threats against journalists, particularly those working for Al-Jazeera." said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "Those in positions of power in Yemen, particularly within the presidency and the interior ministry, will be held accountable for any harm that befalls our colleagues."
Immediately following the assault on Walid al-Miqtari, Thabit sent two letters to the Yemeni Ministry of the Interior. The first requested protection for Al-Jazeera's offices, and a second letter demanded the return of al-Miqtari's equipment and identification papers. The government did not respond, Thabit told CPJ.
Over a period of a few days in mid-March, Yemen expelled six other international journalists. The Yemeni Journalists' Syndicate has documented in excess of 60 individual attacks on media since the beginning of social unrest in January. They include a killing, abductions, dozens of physical assaults, confiscation of equipment, and scores of death threats against journalists and their families.

Some Yemen Oil Exports Continue Amid Strife


LONDON, Mar 24, 2011- At least some oil and natural gas continued to flow from Yemen to customers abroad Thursday, despite an escalation in unrest and what opposition groups warned was an increasing threat of civil war in the Middle Eastern country.

However, the worsening political crisis, along with ongoing conflict in Libya and throughout the North Africa-Middle East region, looked increasingly certain to lend continued upward support to oil prices. Yemen accounts for a small percentage of oil, but the country's strategic locale near Saudi Arabia has injected additional anxiety into markets.

There have been conflicting signs on the impact of the unrest on oil and gas operations.

On Wednesday, Canadian producer Calvalley Petroleum Inc. said a pipeline that ships 50,000 to 70,000 barrels of oil a day from Yemen's western oil fields to the port city of Ras Isa on the Red Sea has been shut down in a recent tribal attack.

Austrian oil company OMV AG said it had shut all its production in Yemen. OMV's normal Yemen production of 6,600 barrels of oil equivalent a day has been stopped since March 18, because of a rebel attack on the country's main export oil pipeline.

"We do not produce oil at the Haban field at the moment. It is shut, which means that at the moment we have no production in Yemen at all," OMV spokesman Sven Pusswald said in a written statement. OMV has also begun evacuating all 60 of its expatriate staff based in Yemen, Mr. Pusswald said.

But a Yemen government official who asked not to be identified said Yemen's oil exports won't be affected by an attack that shut down a pipeline carrying crude from the country's western fields.

Also Thursday, French utility giant GDF Suez SA said it is continuing to receive liquified natural gas shipments as normal from Yemen. "As of today, all deliveries took place as normal," a GDF Suez spokesperson said Thursday morning.

Norway's DNO International ASA , which has also evacuated staff from Yemen, confirmed Thursday that it continued to produce oil and gas in Yemen.

French major Total SA, one of the bigger players in Yemen, declined to comment on production but said through a spokesperson that "all necessary measures are taken to guarantee our employees' safety, as this is our highest priority."

A Total executive told a French petroleum magazine this week that a pipeline outage could affect Total's Yemen LNG plant.

Although Yemen, the Arabian Peninsular's southernmost nation, accounts for a relatively nominal 260,000 barrels a day, well under 1% of world output, the country's strategic location means events there could have wider regional implications, specifically for northern neighbor Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Fears of regional spillover, with a resulting interruption to production in those countries, pushed the price of crude oil higher late Thursday.

At 1541 GMT, the front-month May Brent contract ICE futures exchange traded 29 cents higher at $115.84 a barrel.

However, some observers suggested these fears of contagion were overblown.

"At the heart of so much of the worry over recent events in the region is the possibility that the 'unrest' could eventually spread to Saudi Arabia. At this time, that does not look all that likely or imminent," said Peter Beutel of oil-trading advisor Cameron Hanover, in a research report.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

French FM: wave of Arab revolts 'irrepressible'

France's top diplomat says Arab pro-democracy movements 'will prevail everywhere' over time.

Dictators 'will not be able to resist in the long run'

PARIS, Mar 24, 2011- The wave of anti-government, pro-democracy revolts sweeping across much of the Arab world is "irrepressible," France's top diplomat said Thursday, citing Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia as examples.

"I thing that this movement is irrepressible. There will no doubt be dictators who will try to stay on, but they will not be able to resist in the long run," Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told journalists.

"Over time, this movement will prevail everywhere, and I hope it will happen in as short a time as possible."

Juppe said the aspiration for liberty and democracy must be respected in all countries, and condemned the use of violence by regimes faced with mass protests.

"We appeal for dialogue, whether it is in Bahrain, Yemen or Syria. I am not going to cite the (full) list of countries in which the wave of freedom has risen," Juppe said.

"This is a marvelous opportunity, it is a major and historic event. We must not be afraid," he added.

Bahrain, which is ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa royal family, has been rocked by Shiite-led demonstrations.

In Syria, more than 100 people were reportedly shot dead Wednesday in the volatile southern city of Daraa, hub of a week of anti-regime protests, as anger reportedly spread to neighbouring towns.

And in Yemen, parliament has approved a state of emergency declared by the embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh despite an plea from young Yemenis that it could lead to further repression of anti-regime protests.

When asked whether his comments applied to Saudi Arabia, Juppe said: "They apply to all the countries in the region."

At the same time, he added, the specific conditions of each nation must be taken into account, including problems related to different ethnic and religious communities, notably the relations between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

Saudi Arabia's oil-rich Eastern Province, where most of the country's Shiite minority lives, has been rocked by protests in recent days.

Source: Middle East Online

Yemen opposition eyes transition

Sana'a, Mar 24, 2011- An escalating anti-regime campaign sought a transition despite more concessions from Yemen's president, as fears rose of bloodshed and military units clashed on Thursday for the second time this week.

Yemen's disparate opposition brushed aside new concessions as having come too late, and focused on working behind the scenes on a transition which could spare the country a brutal civil war, political sources said.

Ahead of another possible escalation on the Muslim weekly day of prayers and rest, President Ali Abdullah Saleh urged his supporters to hold a mass show of support on Friday in a Sana'a square close to his presidential palace.

Even if deserted by long-time military, political, tribal and clerical backers, the veteran leader dubbed the event "Friday of Tolerance", countering the pro-change slogans of anti-regime demonstrators around the Arab world.

On Wednesday, parliament voted to pass a state of emergency declared by Saleh on March 18, just hours after regime loyalists last Friday gunned down 52 protesters outside their Sana'a University camp set up two months ago.

In theory, the measure outlaws demonstrations and would allow the regime to gag the media. On Wednesday, the Sana'a offices of pan-Arab news channel Al-Jazeera were shut down.

The opposition has said it will hold off until the following Friday, April 1, to march on the presidential palace for what many fear could prove a bloody final showdown.

President to leave

Saleh, in power for three decades, has offered his foes a deal on forming a unity government, drawing up a new electoral law, holding a legislative poll, and his successor to be named by the end of 2011 by newly elected MPs.

"But we don't want any more concessions. We just want the president to leave, and quickly," Rashad al-Sharaabi, a member of a youths' committee which has been a key player behind the uprising, told AFP.

He said behind-the-scenes consultations were taking place for a peaceful transition of power. "We want a civil society, not a military regime", cautioned the activist.

On Thursday, fresh clashes in Mukalla, southeast Yemen, between the regular army and elite Republican Guard loyal to Saleh left three wounded, witnesses and medics said.

The fighting pitted soldiers under the orders of a regional commander who has rallied to the side of anti-Saleh protesters and the Republican Guards, witnesses said.

On Monday, two soldiers were killed as the rivals also clashed near a presidential palace in Mukalla.

With fears of violence on the rise, Britain and Germany both announced the evacuation of most staff from their embassies in Sana'a and pressed any more of their nationals still in the Yemeni capital to leave.

Tide has turned

Russia's foreign ministry also advised all its citizens to immediately leave Yemen, which it said faced an "escalating trend".

Sources close to secret talks on a post-Saleh Yemen said General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a key figure who has sided with the protesters, was leading efforts to form a transitional council grouping representatives from all sides.

The International Crisis Group think tank said on Thursday "the political tide in Yemen has turned decisively against" Saleh, who would have to act swiftly to manoeuvre an honourable exit and prevent civil war.

Before the Sana'a bloodbath of March 18, "there was a chance for Saleh to negotiate and even lead a process of reform and peaceful transition of power. That opportunity is gone", the think tank said.

A peaceful transition could reassure Yemen's mighty neighbour Saudi Arabia and Saleh's allies in the United States, which have warned that the turmoil could boost al-Qaeda's franchise which is already based in Yemen.

Sana'a also faces an on-off Shi'ite revolt in the north that has dragged in Saudi Arabia and a secessionist movement in southern Yemen.

Dubai police announced on Thursday they had foiled a bid to smuggle 16 000 pistols from Turkey to Yemen's northern province of Saada, the stronghold of the Shi'ite Zaidi rebels.

In the southern city of Aden, meanwhile, a policeman was killed and seven others were wounded in a roadside bombing which targeted their patrol, a security official said.

Source: AFP

China Says Yemen Can Contain Unrest

By HuDie 2011-03-24

( - China on Thursday voiced confidence that authorities in Yemen can bring rising unrest under control, while calling for dialogue to quell anti-regime protests rocking the country.

"We believe the Yemeni government has the competence to properly handle the issue and restore social stability and normality at an early date," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told journalists.

"We are concerned with developments in Yemen and call for all parties in Yemen to resolve their disputes through dialogue and other peaceful means to avoid bloodshed and conflict."

Yemen's parliament on Wednesday approved a state of emergency declared by President Ali Abdullah Saleh despite an appeal from young Yemenis who said it could trigger a "massacre" aimed at putting down their protests.

Saleh has ruled for more than three decades but is facing an escalating campaign for his removal.

The protests come amid uprisings across the Middle East and Africa, including in Syria, Bahrain, and Libya. The presidents of Tunisia and Egypt have already fallen following similar demonstrations.

What the President Must Do About Yemen

March 24, 2011
by James Phillips
As turmoil and transformation sweep across the Middle East and North Africa, President Obama cannot afford to dwell on one crisis at a time. In particular, the United States must not neglect the ongoing crisis in Yemen, a country that has served as a base of operations for terrorist attacks aimed at the U.S. and its allies. A double dose of diplomacy and engagement is now vital to ensure that the U.S. can continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in the region.
State of Play
Embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is quickly losing his grip on power in the face of mushrooming protests against his rule that have been joined by key military, political, and tribal leaders. Saleh now faces an unpalatable choice between stepping down and violently suppressing the populist revolt à la Muammar Qadhafi—one of only two Arab rulers who have been in power longer than Saleh’s 32 years.
The U.S. has a major stake in the outcome of this deepening political crisis because of the terrorist threat posed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has established itself in Yemen’s tribal badlands. Washington should lead an international effort to support a peaceful transfer of power to a new government that will remain committed to the fight against al-Qaeda terrorism.
Saleh is a canny political survivor who dominated the tumultuous politics of the Arab world’s poorest country by exploiting factional and tribal rivalries for more than three decades, but his luck is finally running out. Last Friday, after six weeks of peaceful protests in the capital city of Sanaa, Saleh’s thuggish secret police deployed snipers on rooftops to fire on demonstrators, killing more than 50 and wounding hundreds. On Monday, key members of the government—including Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, Yemen’s top military leader—resigned in protest and demanded that Saleh step down.
General Mohsen has mobilized army forces and deployed tanks in the capital to back up his demands, while Saleh has deployed tanks around his presidential palace to signal his determination to cling to power. The tense standoff could explode at any moment if back-channel talks between Saleh and the opposition do not defuse the situation soon. Saleh has already agreed to step down at the end of the year after new parliamentary elections have taken place, but the opposition insists that he must do so immediately.
Saleh’s former allies are now rushing to abandon him. Yemen’s major tribes—and even Saleh’s own Sanhan tribe—have turned against the President. The opposition is fueled by simmering resentment over the corruption, nepotism, and ineffectiveness of the government in providing jobs, economic development, education, and other services to the Yemeni people.
One of the driving forces within the ad hoc opposition coalition is the Islah party, an Islamist movement whose spiritual leader, Sheik Zindani, has been designated as a terrorist by the U.S. government due to his close association with Osama bin Laden. Opposition groups have called for a march on the presidential palace on Friday that could push Yemen to the brink of civil war unless some sort of an agreement can be worked out beforehand.
U.S. Policy Priorities
The foremost U.S. national interest in Yemen is to contain and defeat AQAP, which has emerged as the most urgent threat to homeland security since the al-Qaeda high command was forced to hide in Pakistan’s remote tribal areas. AQAP’s Anwar al-Aulaqi, an American-born Yemeni cleric, has emerged as a key al-Qaeda leader. He is believed to have inspired Major Nidal Hassan, who perpetrated the 2009 Fort Hood shootings, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the failed suicide bomber who sought to destroy an airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.[1] Aulaqi is also suspected of playing a role in the November 2010 AQAP plot to dispatch parcel bombs to the U.S. in cargo planes.
The U.S. entered an awkward alliance of convenience with Saleh to mobilize more pressure on AQAP. Although preventing AQAP from carving out a secure sanctuary in Yemen is Washington’s highest priority, Saleh’s regime was always more concerned with the threats posed by the seven-year-old Houthi rebellion in the north and the simmering secessionist movement in southern Yemen, which has flared up intermittently since North and South Yemen unified in 1990. Yemen’s weak central government will be even less inclined and less able to assist U.S. efforts to fight AQAP now that Saleh is fighting for his political survival.
To help stabilize Yemen and maintain pressure on AQAP, the Obama Administration should:
* Encourage a peaceful transition of power. The longer Sanaa remains a cockpit for political violence, the stronger AQAP is likely to become. Washington should seek to broker a face-saving exit deal for the widely resented Saleh to defuse tensions and enable the formation of another government.
* Maintain close contacts with Yemen’s military leaders. The backbone of any successor government is likely to be comprised of military or former military leaders. General Mohsen may emerge as the enforcer of any new regime, and he should be approached discreetly to determine whether he has modified his troubling past support for Islamist extremists. There is a possibility that he was acting on behalf of Saleh, his longtime mentor.
* Engage the opposition. American diplomats and intelligence officers should discreetly contact and sound out key leaders of political groups and tribes within the loose opposition coalition to ascertain which ones would be potential allies against AQAP and help them to become integral parts of the next government.
* Coordinate policy with Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has a strategic interest in Yemeni stability and defeating AQAP, which narrowly missed assassinating the Saudi prince who leads counter-terrorism efforts in a suicide bombing in August 2009. Saudi Arabia wields the strongest foreign influence in Yemen by disbursing subsidies to tribal leaders and financial aid to the government.
* Prevent Iran from fishing in troubled waters. There is a growing danger that the chronic Houthi rebellion could become a full-blown proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Houthi tribesmen are Zaidi Shiites who do not share Iran’s brand of Shiism, but they remain open to Iranian support in their conflict with the predominantly Sunni Yemeni army and Saudi Arabia. The best solution would be to broker a political settlement that would permanently end the Houthi rebellion, but in the meantime, the U.S. should cooperate with the Saudi and Yemeni governments to contain Iranian influence and intercept any arms shipments.
Time to Engage
Saleh has been a reluctant ally against AQAP, which he perceived to be much less of a threat to his power than a southern secessionist movement or the Houthi rebellion in northern Yemen. If he fights to cling to power, Yemen could dissolve into anarchy, which would greatly benefit AQAP and allow it to function more freely. Washington should work to prevent that from happening by encouraging a peaceful transfer of political power and the establishment of a new government that could be a long-term partner for counter-terrorism cooperation—or could at least avert the risk that Yemen will become a failed state that AQAP can exploit.
* James Phillips is Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.

Yemen's youth leaders set out their demands

By AHMED AL-HAJ, Associated Press

Associated Press March 24, 2011

The youth groups who began a month long uprising said Thursday that they wanted a new constitution and the dissolution of parliament, local councils and Yemen's notorious security agencies in addition to the immediate ouster of the president.

The widening demands appear to reflect the perception that President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime has been badly weakened by weeks of unrelenting protests, and the defection to the opposition of a string of powerful officials including members of the president's inner circle.

The organizers say they are hoping that several million people will turn out for Friday prayers in public squares and follow them with demonstrators against Saleh.

The leaders of the "Civil Coalition for Peaceful Revolution" — an umbrella group for several pro-reform organizations — told a news conference they also wanted to limit future presidents to two, four-year terms in office, and the creation of an interim presidential council of nine civilians to run the country until legislative and presidential elections are held.

The leader of Yemen's largest tribe sided with Saleh's opponents, calling on him to step down immediately and refrain from further violence against protesters.

The decision by the widely respected Sheik Sinan Abu Lohoum, 80, was announced in a statement issued from the United States, where he is receiving medical treatment. It was read to protesters gathered at a central Sanaa square that has become the epicenter of the protests.

Members of Abu Lohoum's immediate family confirmed the authenticity of the statement.

Abu Lohoum's Baqeel tribe is the larger of two that follow the Zaidi offshoot of Shiite Islam. The other — Saleh's own Hashid tribe — has already backed the opposition.

Several senior military commanders, lawmakers, Cabinet ministers, diplomats and provincial governors have also defected to the opposition over the last week.

"Those from the security and military institutions who have joined the youth revolution are most welcome," said one of the youth leaders, Nizar al-Jeneid. "We call on others to follow their example," he added before he warned that anyone among them found to have been corrupt should be held accountable.

Saleh has repeatedly sought to appease the protesters, to no avail.

Over the past month, he has offered not to run again when his current term ends in 2013, then offered this week to step down by the end of the year and open a dialogue with the leaders of the demonstrators.

At the same time, he has stepped up the use of violence. His security forces shot dead more than 40 demonstrators in Sanaa on Friday, but the bloodshed only escalated the defections and hardened the protesters' rejection of anything but his immediate departure.

Yemen's legislature granted Saleh's request for a 30-day state of emergency on Wednesday in a vote the opposition called illegal.

The state of emergency declaration appeared to signal that Saleh intends to dig in and try to crush his opponents. The decree allows media censorship, gives wide powers to censor mail, tap phone lines, search homes and arrest and detain suspects without judicial process.

Opposition parties allied with the youth groups in the protests said Saleh in part wanted the state of emergency as a legal cover for further crackdowns on the protests. Opposition and independent legislators stayed away from Wednesday's parliamentary session along with dozens of lawmakers from Saleh's own ruling party.