Monday, June 27, 2011

Water, fuel, power crises plague Yemen amid unrest

by Fuad Rajeh, Wang Qiuyun

SANAA, June 27 (Xinhua) -- Crises ranging from acute water and fuel shortages, day-and-night power outages to price hikes are deepening in Yemen as unrest continues in the country, alarming political vacuum and insecurity.

"There has been no water supply here for weeks and we used to buy water recently. The price of water is triply inflated," said Suad al-Salahi, a woman who lives in al-Hasaba district in Sanaa.

"Furthermore, I don't go to work these days because there are no taxis due to the acute fuel shortage. If I take a taxi I have to pay much more than I usually do," she added.

Al-Hasaba, the main battle field of clashes between the army and the tribesmen loyal to the opposition leader Sadeqal-Ahmer late last month, is still empty of people and suffering from the lack of all services.

Many families in the district have not returned to their homes yet and those who came back can't live normally, said al-Salahi.

The situation further worsens in outskirts of the capital because water truck drivers are refusing to supply water to homes, citing the fuel shortage or saying some people complained they are exploiting the situation to sell water for much higher prices.

Um Mahir, who lives in Asser district overlooking the western part of Sanaa, said the water and power crises have worsened to an unbearable extent. "There is no water supply and water truck drivers refuse to transport water to us here," she said.

"We can live without electricity but cannot without water," said Um Mahir.

Officials at the Public Water Corporation blamed the shortage on power outages.

"When we fix damages made to power towers, saboteurs carry out new attacks," said Ramzi al-Absi, an official at the Public Electricity Corporation, adding "though there are forces now guarding power towers and the gas-fired station in Marib, technical teams can't go there to repair damages because of road closures and bandits."

In the past few weeks, electricity has been cut off in Sanaa and many other provinces, forcing businesses to close and causing big losses to others, in coastal areas some patients died due to the lack of electricity.

Meanwhile, acute fuel shortage worsened crisis here. In the past few weeks, long queues of cars were seen at gates of gas stations, waiting for their turns to get some petrol or diesel.

"There is no fuel in my car ... not even a drop of oil. I was forced to park it here until the filling station gets something that we can use to go home or do something," said Nabil al-Maqtari, a driver in al-Daery Street.

"We have been here for four days. Two days ago, we were about to fill our cars, but a colonel from the republican guard came to fill his cars by force, triggering the closure of the gas station, " Nabil complained, adding that the price for 20 liter of petrol soared from 1,500 rial (some seven U.S. dollars ) to more than 10, 000 rial (some 47 U.S. dollars ) in the black market.

The crux of all crises lies in the fuel shortage, because when there is no fuel, prices increase and other services are not available, said Mustafa Nasr, head of the Studies and Economic Media Center.

In the meantime, the government blamed road closures and bandits for the fuel crisis, saying oil trucks have been held in many areas and some were attacked.

"The main oil pipeline in Marib was attacked and has not been repaired due to the continuous unrest," said Adam al-Ashwal, an official at the Oil and Minerals Ministry.

Yemen says it foils planned Qaeda attack in Aden

June 27

ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) - Yemen said on Monday its security forces had foiled a planned al Qaeda attack in the southern province of Aden.

The announcement came three days after a suicide bomber killed four soldiers and a civilian and wounded 16 people in Aden. A local newspaper said on Monday that investigators had identified the suicide bomber as a Saudi national.

Yemen's state news agency Saba quoted a security source as saying six people "among some of the most dangerous elements" of al Qaeda were captured while trying to infiltrate into the province, which includes a port and oil refinery.

The report described the intended target of the thwarted attack as "vital and economic installations," giving no further details.

Months of popular protests demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh end his 33 years in power have brought near chaos to Yemen, which is home to al Qaeda's potent regional wing and also faces a separatist revolt in its south and a tenuous peace with Shi'ite rebels in its north.

The Yemeni army has been battling hundreds of Islamist militants affiliated to al Qaeda who seized control of the southern city of Zinjibar and smaller towns in the province of Abyan. The United States and Saudi Arabia fear that al Qaeda will exploit the country's chaos to launch attacks.

The security source said the arrested militants, all bomb experts, were carrying detonators and wireless communications equipment.

The state news agency, which frequently plays up the threat from al Qaeda, gave no further details and the report could not be independently verified.

Saba said five al Qaeda militants have been killed and seven Yemeni soldiers were injured in clashes in Abyan.

Another group of Somalian pirates lands in Gujarat, detained

June 27, 2011

In an embarrassment for the Navy, Coast Guard and the Marine Police, a group of Somalian pirates has landed in Gujarat after their ship drifted to the Dwarka coast in Gujarat because of a technical fault.

Jamnagar Superintendent of Police Subhash Trivedi said out of the 21 Africans who were detained by the Gujarat police, 18 were Somali nationals, two are Yemen nationals and one was a Tanzanian.

What's shocking is that the pirates were caught just three kilometer from famous Dwarkadhish temple. The incident took place only five days after the Gujarat government drew up an elaborate plan for increased security at the prominent religious shrines in the state.

The men had dropped their arms in the sea after being spotted by a NATO chopper. "The Somalis revealed that they had dropped a rocket launcher and other sophisticated weapons off the Oman coast after being spotted by a NATO helicopter," Trivedi said.

On June 19, 14 Somali pirates had landed on the Una coast of Junagadh district. But it seems no lessons have been learnt. India's coastline remains as vulnerable as it was at the time of 26/11. The failure of the three-tier coastal security raises many questions: How could Indian Navy could fail to detect pirates' boat. Why was the pirates' boat not intercepted by Coast Guard in 5 km-12 km stretch? Why couldn't Coastal Police spot the boat?

New Zealand journalist detained in Yemen

June 27, 2011

Glen Johnson, a freelance journalist from New Zealand, has been arrested in Yemen.

According to the New Zealand Herald, he is being held for allegedly entering the country illegally from Djibouti.

Johnson, a contributor to the New York Times and Le Monde, has covered the Middle East for over two years and, according to his parents, had been investigating a people-smuggling ring for a British magazine.

They also told the Herald they believed their son had not been harmed and was currently in a jail in Lahj province.

This is not Johnson's first encounter with the Yemeni authorities. He visited Yemen last year to report on female sexual abuse and left after the country gave him 36 hours to depart.

He was also arrested four times and beaten once in Egypt while covering the protests earlier this year.

In 2011, press freedom violations have soared in Yemen since violent clashes began between opposition forces and the government. There have been a catalogue of incidents.

During May alone, several journalists were injured when military forces attacked a private satellite broadcaster Suhail TV.

Reporter Farooq al-Kamali was shot in the leg two while covering a gun battle between loyalist troops and members of the Hashid tribal federation.

Armed men raided the offices of independent daily newspaper Al-Oula, where trainee editor Hasaan Saeed Hasaan was stabbed 10 times.

Newspaper reporter Ibraheem al-Ba'adani was attacked in the city of Ibb by opposition forces after being accused of working for the pro-government news agency; on the same day, journalist Abdel Rahman Bajunaid was found stabbed to death in the city of Aden.

Bajunaid was the second journalist killed in Yemen in 2011 following the March shooting death of Al-Masdar reporter Jamal Ahmed al-Sharabi.

International Press Institute press freedom manager Anthony Mills said: "We urge the Yemeni authorities to release Glen Johnson, to allow full access to the country for foreign correspondents, and to ensure that local Yemeni journalists are not obliged to operate in a climate of fear."

Sources: International Press Institute/New Zealand Herald

Yemen Islamists tighten grip on southern cities

Islamic militants have consolidated their hold over a southern city in Yemen, forcing merchants to lower food prices and helping residents who want to flee shelling by government forces outside the city, residents said Monday.
Associated Press
SANAA, Yemen —
Islamic militants have consolidated their hold over a southern city in Yemen, forcing merchants to lower food prices and helping residents who want to flee shelling by government forces outside the city, residents said Monday.
In contrast, militants in control of another nearby city are enforcing a stringent version of Islamic rule, forcing women to stay home and trying to recruit young men to their ranks, according to residents there.
Government forces do not appear to have the will to fight the Islamists, raising fears that al-Qaida's most dangerous wing is making significant gains as the weakened regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh unravels in the face of an array of opponents.
So far, government troops and warplanes have only been shelling the two cities, Zinjibar and Jaar, in southern Abyan province, often missing their targets and hitting residential areas instead.
The recent advances made by the militants in the nearly lawless south are a clear attempt to exploit the power vacuum and turmoil caused by a popular uprising against Saleh that began in February. It gained momentum when a coterie of the president's close aides, military commanders and Cabinet ministers joined the protesters.
Even before the revolt began, the shaky regime was already under threat from a secessionist movement in the south, a Shiite rebellion in the north and an increasingly bold, if not large, cadre of al-Qaida militants who used Yemen as a base to plot at least two major attacks on U.S. targets. Though the attacks did not cause any casualties, they did cause alarm.
Saleh, Yemen's leader of nearly 33 years, left for neighboring Saudi Arabia on June 5 to treat severe wounds he suffered when his compound in the capital Sanaa was attacked. It is not clear when - or if - he will return, deepening uncertainty in the poor nation at the southern corner of the Arabian Peninsula.
The turmoil has emboldened militants, some of whom are linked to al-Qaida, to operate in the open, capturing and holding territory in the south. Some of these militants have at one time or another enjoyed Saleh's patronage as part of his delicate balance act, using them against rivals, particularly in the south where secessionist sentiments are strong.
The militants, operating under the name "Ansar al-Sunna," or supporters of Islamic Sharia law, captured the coastal city of Zinjibar in late May.
Zinjibar is on the Arabian Sea and normally has a population of about 150,000. But residents on Monday said large parts of the city are deserted and most stores are shuttered. There is a shortage of drinking water, forcing residents to bring water from wells on the city's outskirts.
They said the province's main hospital, al-Rajaa, on the road to the nearby city of Jaar, has been taken over by the militants and is being run by physicians from Sudan and Syria. They said the militants also have taken over local government offices.
"Why has not the army moved in to retake the city?" asked Zinjibar resident Ali al-Sumeiti, 22. "Now, from every 10 shells they fire on the city, only one hits the militants."
Another Zinjibar resident, 65-year-old retiree Abdullah al-Mohandes, said residents were running out of food and were heavily dependent on kitchen gardens to survive.
Al-Mohandes, however, had some praise for the militants.
"To be completely honest, we have not been badly treated by the mujahideen. On the contrary, they try to win our goodwill all the time," he said. "If you tell them you want to leave town, they escort you out and give you money to tide you over."
Others said the militants were doing services for the population that has remained behind by forcing traders to sell food cheaper and helping with trash collection.
The Islamic militants have held the city since they captured it despite of near daily bombing from the air and artillery stationed a few miles outside the city.
The latest barrage, according to security officials, came at dawn on Monday, killing 12 militants and wounding scores. The officials said a total of 35 homes in the city have been destroyed in government shelling over the past two weeks alone.
Five more militants were killed and seven soldiers wounded in clashes later on Monday at Abyan's Dovas valley area, which is close to Zinjibar, according to the officials.
Also on Monday, the Defense Ministry said six suspected al-Qaida militants have been arrested as they tried to enter Aden, southern Yemen's largest city, to target strategic installations there. The ministry did not say when the arrests were made, but security officials said the six were detained Saturday along with a truck loaded with explosives and weapons concealed under a cargo of cattle feed.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
In contrast to Zinjibar, residents of nearby Jaar are unhappy with their city's new militant masters.
The Islamists have been feuding with local clerics over control of the city's main mosque and have daily been using loudspeakers to urge the city's young men to join them.
Women have not been allowed to leave their homes except when chaperoned by their fathers, husbands or brothers.
Anwar Salim, the imam of the disputed mosque, has been criticizing the militants in his sermons, saying their beliefs were against the spirit of Islam.
"If they must fight their enemies, they should get out of the city and do it elsewhere," he told worshippers from the pulpit one recent day. Scuffles often break out between the militants and the locals.
The residents are further disheartened by the growing number of the militants.
"Every day, more of them come to the city, sometimes five, 10 or 15," said resident Waleed Mohammed. "Why cannot the government block roads leading to the city?"
Abdullah Ghaleb, an unemployed university graduate fled Jaar with his family and took refuge in Aden. He blames Saleh's regime for the proliferation of the militant groups.
"The regime has over the years provided them with weapons and money. No one can deny this," he said. "But the reality is that these groups have no relation to Islam. They force a specific daily lifestyle on people and that's why I left the city."

Yemen state TV staff head for Riyadh to air President Saleh'speech

SANAA, June 27 (Xinhua) -- Staff of the Yemeni state TV Monday left for the Saudi capital of Riyadh to conduct an interview with President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is being treated there following an attack on his presidential palace, the ruling party's website reported.

The portal said Saleh is to unveil political reforms to be implemented within the next period. Saleh's expected speech was announced on Sunday by his information advisor Ahmed al-Soufi, who told Xinhua that the president would deliver the speech to the nation within 48 hours.

The president, 69, has not been seen in public since he was airlifted to Riyadh a day after being seriously injured in the bombardment that hit his palace, which killed 12 of Saleh's aides and wounded tens of high-ranking government officials. The officials said Saleh is now in good health condition.

The president has faced months of protests across the country that left hundreds of people dead since the beginning of this year, demanding him to end his 33-year rule and leave the country.