Tuesday, June 21, 2011

President Saleh's supporters make the biggest feast in the world to celebrate his recovery and return

Protests Aside, Yemen’s Leader Has His Followers

By LAURA KASINOF, 21/06/2011

SANA, Yemen — Out of the ancient, ornate mud brick buildings and across the narrow alleyways where barefoot children play, a chant emerges frequently in the old walled city here in the capital. Seemingly at random, someone will raise his voice to announce: “The people want Ali Abdullah Saleh!”

Mr. Saleh’s government has suffered high-level defections and the loss of international support. The exact state of his health remains in question after an attack on the presidential compound forced him to seek treatment in Saudi Arabia. Crowds in the capital on Monday demanded that his sons also leave.

Still, the embattled Yemeni president has his fervent followers, especially in the old city.

“I am 100 percent sure that he’ll come back,” said Mohammed al-Ghaithi, a high school student who with his brother mans the family shop in a neighborhood of the old city, Al Jala, known for its historic bathhouse.

Their numbers are impossible to gauge with certainty, and motives among them are hardly uniform. Many of the tribesmen who show up at pro-Saleh rallies on Fridays are shipped in from across the country and paid by their sheikhs, who are in turn paid by the government. Thousands gather, and even illiterate people hold signs that read “yes to constitutional legitimacy.”

For months, Mr. Saleh gave weekly speeches at the rallies, and the ostentatious shows of support helped him justify keeping his grip on power in the face of the far larger and more organic antigovernment sit-ins here and around the country.

Also among the pro-Saleh camp: hundreds of paid thugs who roam the streets of Sana, with batons in hand ready to beat up a stray young antigovernment protester at random, and ruling party businessmen who greatly benefited from the corruption of the Saleh government.

However, many of the residents of the old city, whom Yemenis tend to stereotype as simple and kind, fit a different mold — though they do attend pro-Saleh rallies on occasion and many have low-level government jobs.

They are neither incredibly poverty-stricken nor involved in tribal warfare. With schools and hospitals near at hand and peace in the streets, they say they feel that Mr. Saleh brought them the stability in which they want to live their lives.

“The first thing is that people in Old Sana are educated,” Mr. Ghaithi said. “But another important thing is that there is more security here than any other place in the capital. We feel that this security comes from Saleh.”

When Mr. Saleh returns from Saudi Arabia, said Abdullah Swaid, a shopkeeper, “we will make the biggest feast in the world.”

“It’s going to stretch from Tahrir Square to 70th Street,” he said, referring to a square that is dominated by a pro-Saleh camp and a stretch of street about a mile away where pro-government rallies are held on Fridays.

There is a tent set up at the antigovernment protest camp in Sana University representing the old city, but several protesters say their car tires have been slashed when parked near their homes in the old city.

One evening, days after Mr. Saleh went to Saudi Arabia, his supporters celebrated by shooting Kalashnikovs into the air for hours when official media announced that he had come out of surgery successfully. Some people in the old city said it sounded as if war had broken out.

Local press carried reports of hundreds of people being injured by the falling bullets and of several being killed. The loyalists say they will light up the sky again with gunfire when Mr. Saleh returns from Riyadh.

“It was a miracle that he didn’t die,” Mr. Swaid said, sitting cross-legged on the ground in his shop, which was dark — there is very little electricity in Sana these days. “Everyone around him died. And somehow he didn’t die.”

The old city, where posters of a dapper-looking Mr. Saleh are plastered throughout, is also marked by a distinct hatred for Mr. Saleh’s main tribal rivals, the Ahmars, who were engaged in a bloody battle with the government for about two weeks early this month.

One afternoon, children were throwing their shoes at a scurrying rat. “That’s Hamid al-Ahmar!” they yelled, naming the most outspoken of the family. Adults make scoffing noises when any of the Ahmars are mentioned.

Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani, a prominent Yemeni political analyst, said that in the unlikely event that the Ahmars took power, people would flock back to Mr. Saleh’s side and even “take up arms.”

But if there is a relatively peaceful transfer of power —as the United States and Saudi Arabia are seeking — Mr. Iryani said hard-core supporters would most likely accept the reality that Mr. Saleh’s rule was finished. After all, many high-ranking members of the ruling party are in favor of such a proposal, brokered by Persian Gulf nations, which Mr. Saleh declined but was resuscitated after he left the country.

Of course, not everyone in the old city supports him.

While chatting around Mr. Ghaithi’s shop in Al Jala, a friend, Rami Hani, yelled as one of his neighbors walked by. “He’s an Islahi, he’s an Islahi,” he said, meaning a member of the most-powerful opposition party. As Mr. Hani made a pejorative gesture, the man hurried around a corner.

One night, a group of three men stood chatting quietly outside a dry cleaning shop lined with racks of the suit jackets that men from northern Yemen wear over their white robes.

“I go to the university at times during the week,” said Mohammed, who did not want his last name used out of fear of retaliation. “But on Fridays, my dad beats me if I don’t go to 70th Street.”

Source: The New York Times,

Yemen losses near $1-billion after pipeline blast

Sanaa, Yemen— Reuters

Jun. 21, 2011

Yemen has lost nearly $1-billion U.S. in revenues since a blast blamed on tribesmen supporting efforts to oust the president cut off the country’s main oil (CL-FT) pipeline, a senior official said on Tuesday.

The impoverished country has witnessed months of violent clashes which have killed dozens. Protesters are demanding president Ali Abdullah Saleh end his more than three decades in power.

“Yemen loses around $10-million a day due to the production and export stoppage since mid-March,” the official told Reuters.

The country of some 23 million people relies on oil exports for up to 70 per cent of its budget, the official said.

The blast cut off the supply of oil from the central Maarib province to the main export terminal at Ras Isa on the Red Sea.

It also stopped work at the main refinery in Aden, where officials this week began using oil donated from neighbouring Saudi Arabia to begin a restart.

No date has been set to repair the pipeline, which carries nearly half of the country’s 260,000 barrels per day (bpd) oil production.

“No date has been fixed,” the official said. “It depends on reaching an agreement between the government and the opposition.”

Tribesmen, who have repeatedly damaged the pipeline in the past, have prevented technicians from repairing it.

The Maarib oil fields, where international oil companies operate, produce high quality light oil which is in demand following the stoppage of similar exports from war-torn Libya.

The government has blamed the pipeline blast on tribesmen supporting opposition groups demanding Saleh’s ouster.

But tribal sources have said that relatives of a Yemeni mediator killed by mistake last year in an air strike targeting al Qaeda were to blame.

They said that Jaber al-Shabwani, who had been trying to persuade members of al Qaeda to surrender, died when his car was destroyed in a strike blamed on a U.S. drone.

Yemen says steps up fight against Islamists

June 21, 2011- (Reuters) - Yemen's army has stepped up an offensive to dislodge Islamist militants holed up in a southern province, killing at least 10 in overnight attacks involving air strikes, a local official said Tuesday.
About 300 militants from ultra-conservative Salafist groups linked to al Qaeda seized Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province, in May, amid a wave of popular protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh's nearly 33-year rule.
"Between 10 and 15 armed group members were killed in face-to-face confrontations in the town of al-Kud and other areas around Zinjibar," a local official involved in the military operation said.
He said Yemen's air force took part in the attacks.
Monday, a military spokesman said troops had killed 17 militants since an offensive began Sunday. Five soldiers had died and 21 were wounded, the military added.
Abyan's provincial governor, Saleh Hussein al-Zuari, said in comments posted on a government website that security forces were making progress against the militants.
It was not possible to verify his statement. No one was immediately available to comment from the armed Islamist group in the city.
Witnesses in Mudiyah, a town in northern Abyan, said on Tuesday they saw militants burying around 20 corpses.
The seizure of Zinjibar forced thousands of residents to flee and raised fears that militants with ties to al Qaeda were gaining ground as Saleh resisted pressure from his Saudi and U.S. allies to step down in favor of a transition to democracy.
Saleh has been in a Saudi hospital since being wounded in an attack on his palace on June 3, but he retains power.
Saleh's opponents say his forces handed over Zinjibar to the militants in order to bolster his argument that his departure would lead to an Islamist takeover of the poor Arab state.

Ali Saleh to return to Yemen

SANAA, Yemen, June 21 (UPI) -- Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, being treated in Saudi Arabia after a bombing attack on his compound, will return to Yemen Friday, a senior adviser said.

Saleh and other senior officials were injured June 3 in the attack on the mosque at the presidential palace and are receiving treatment in Saudi Arabia, CNN reported.

The attack came following months of unrest with protesters demanding an end to Saleh's rule.

Recent weeks have seen battles between Yemeni government troops and anti-government tribal forces and Islamic militants, including al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, CNN said.