Friday, July 1, 2011

Yemen officers arrested for betraying president

By AHMED AL-HAJ, Associated Press
July 1, 2011
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — The son of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has led a crackdown arresting dozens of military officers suspected of turning against his wounded father, including many one of the country's most elite forces, the Republican Guards, military officials said Friday.
The arrests hinted at growing dissent within one of the key units that Saleh has relied on most to retain power in the face of five months of massive street protests demanding his ouster.
The regular military has already been fractured by the uprising, with some units breaking away to the opposition. But at least outwardly, the Republican Guards and other elite units that are the best trained and equipped in the country have remained loyal, leading the fight against Saleh's enemies. Those elite units are led by Saleh's close relatives, including his son Ahmed, who commands the Republican Guards and Special Forces.
Ahmed ordered the arrests at a time when he is trying to ensure the continuation of his father's rule, with Saleh out of the country undergoing treatment in Saudi Arabia after he was wounded in a blast at his presidential palace in June.
The military officials could not give an exact number of those who were arrested, but they said they numbered in the dozens and that most came from the Republican Guards. Others came from the Central Security Forces, which are led by Ahmed's cousin Yahia. The arrested officers came under a variety of suspicions of disloyalty. Some allegedly opened secret talks with Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the most prominent figure in the regular military to defect to the opposition. Others were suspected of giving information to Saleh's opponents or refused to open fire on civilians in defiance of orders, one of the officials said.
Another military official at the southern province of Shabwa said more than 10 high ranking officers were detained after speaking publicly about their "loyalty to the revolution."
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis have been demonstrating daily for months, trying to push Saleh out. Along with military figures like al-Ahmar, major tribal leaders have also joined the opposition. Still, Saleh has managed to survive because of the loyalty of his elite units, defying international pressure to negotiate an exit after 33 years in power.
The United States fears that al-Qaida' branch in Yemen — the terror network's most active — is taking advantage of the chaos to strengthen its position in the country. In recent weeks, Islamic militants — some believed to have links to al-Qaida — have taken over entire towns in southern Yemen.
Amid ongoing clashes, a member of Abyan leading tribe said that tribal leaders are mediating a cease-fire between Islamic extremists and army troops. It is not clear yet if any of the two parties will accept a truce.

Yemenis turn Friday prayers to political rallies

By Mohamed Sudam

SANAA | Fri Jul 1, 2011

SANAA (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Yemenis turned Friday prayers into rallies for and against President Ali Abdullah Saleh who is recovering from injuries sustained in an assassination attempt earlier this month.

Witnesses said Saleh opponents packed Sixty Street to listen to a Muslim preacher urge acting President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to do more to end a standoff over demands that Saleh quit to allow Yemenis to chose a new leader.

"We have sacrificed all what we own, you should sacrifice what you can," the preacher said, addressing Hadi.

Hadi told CNN that Saleh was so severely injured in the assassination attempt that it is uncertain when he will return to the country after his treatment in Saudi Arabia.

Yemen, a southern neighbor of Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, has been rocked by months of protests by tens of thousands demanding Saleh end his 33 years in power.

The United States and Saudi Arabia fear that Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda, which has established a foothold in southern Yemen, might exploit the unrest to carry out attacks in the region and beyond.

Both have urged Saleh to step down under a plan proposed by Gulf Arab states. But 69-year-old Saleh has resisted the pressure, hoping protesters will grow tired and drop their demands.

"We will continue to pay the price until we liberate our country from a tyrannical family-run regime," the preacher said.

In his interview with CNN, Hadi said that according to doctors treating Saleh, no one can tell when the president might return. "Days, weeks, months," he told CNN through a translator. "It could be months, this is a decision up to the doctors."

At Seventy Street, a smaller number of Saleh supporters marched out of Friday prayers holding placards and posters of the president.

"You are our president, leader and commander until 2013," one placard read, referring to when Saleh's term ends.


In Geneva, a U.N. human rights spokesman said that a team of investigators on a visit to Yemen have been receiving good cooperation from the government.

Rupert Colville said the team met with Hadi as well as opposition leaders in Sanaa and with protesters in both the capital and the southern city of Taiz, where at least 15 were killed on May 29 when soldiers opened fire on a demonstration.

"We've had good cooperation from the government which has allowed the team full access," Colville told reporters.

"They have conducted interviews, collected documents, visited the two key protest sites, two squares in Sanaa, where anti-government and pro-government protesters have been gathering."

Separately, security sources said that a New Zealand journalist who had entered Yemen illegally aboard a ship carrying Somali refugees would be deported soon.

They said the journalist, identified as Glen Johnson, was being detained in the southern Lahij province.

"The sources said the journalist will be handed over to the passport and immigration authorities, at which point procedures for his deportation will be completed," the state's Saba news agency said.

New Zealand media have reported that Johnson, who was detained more than a week ago, had been seeking to report on child trafficking in Yemen.

Yemeni VP admits security situation is deteriorating


By Nic Robertson, CNN Senior International Correspondent

SANA'A, July 01 (CNN) - The Yemeni government has lost control over five provinces, and security in the country is deteriorating, the nation's acting president told CNN in an exclusive interview Wednesday.

In his first interview with a Western TV network, Vice President Abdu Rabu Mansoor Hadi detailed how U.S. drones are using voice recognition to target al Qaeda leaders and help the government win back control.

Hadi has been Yemen's acting president since June 3, when President Ali Abdullah Saleh was wounded in an attack on the mosque at the presidential palace.

During Wednesday's hour-long meeting, Hadi said Saleh's wounds from what he described as an assassination attempt were so severe that he has no idea when the president will return from medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.

Hadi said he saw Saleh immediately after the bomb attack. The 68-year-old ruler's chest had been pierce by a piece of wood and his face, arms and upper body had been burned, Hadi said. But, he added, the president's health was improving daily.

The interview in the sprawling and heavily defended defense ministry underlined the many challenges facing the vice president, who many in the opposition consider to be a weak placeholder until the president returns from Saudi Arabia.

He acknowledges that his house is surrounded by opposing forces, but he challenges claims that he is unable to use the presidential palace. Hadi says he calls Saleh's son, commander of the powerful Republican Guard at the palace, whenever he wants to give him orders.

He countered opposition accusations that he has no power, saying he has been given full authority to sign a new, U.N.-sponsored peace proposal. He outlined plans that are even less favorable to Saleh's opponents than a Gulf Cooperation Council initiative he has already turned down.

Hadi said the new deal would have Saleh stepping down only when a new president has been elected, a far cry from the Gulf Council proposal that would have Saleh handing power to Hadi after 30 days with new elections within 60 days.

At times, Hadi -- who lived in Britain during the 1960s -- shifted uncomfortably in his seat, even joking at the end of the interview that he felt he'd been through an interrogation. Nevertheless, he gave a robust defense of Saleh, challenging the widely held view that the embattled leader is now part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Saleh still has 3 million supporters, Hadi said.

"He is part of the political balance here in Yemen. He has been an expert in dealing with all differences, and with all political and tribal differences," Hadi said.

When asked how al Qaeda may have been taking advantage of deteriorating security, Hadi said government forces were targeting them aggressively. He detailed an ongoing operation in the southern Abyan province, where the capital recently fell to al Qaeda.

He also gave an account of how U.S. spy planes eavesdrop on al Qaeda conversations, running voice recognition analysis that is shared with Yemeni authorities, the CIA and the FBI before targets are attacked.

Hadi said there are two types of drones.

"One is taking pictures and collecting information, and the other one is carrying missiles. Drones carrying missiles, actually these missiles could not be fired ... unless the voice of the enemy himself is recorded," he said.

Often, he said, the United States provides the targeting information and Yemeni military forces carry out the attacks.

Hadi offered few insights into how he plans to end Yemen's spiraling economic hardships, growing fuel and power shortages and rising food prices -- issues that have sparked massive anti-government protests over the past several months and have worsened sharply since the president left for treatment in Saudi Arabia.

But he said he expected Saleh to make a speech to the nation in the coming hours that will help change the situation.

And he said the U.N.-sponsored peace proposal will create a new, parliamentary political system in Yemen, "so it will wipe out or vanish any grievances, any complaints."

Saleh went to Saudi Arabia for treatment after doctors examined him shortly after the attack in early June. They recommended he get attention from specialists, including an eye doctor. Since arriving there, he said, the president had been improving and fully intends to return.

But when asked when that would be, he said he did not know.

"It could be months. This is a decision up to the doctors. ... I have no idea about the exact date when he is coming," Hadi said.

In Washington, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said the chaos in Yemen has been a source of concern to the United States for years. "Al Qaeda, the federated group that's in Yemen, is an incredibly dangerous group that has taken full advantage of the chaos that has been in that country," he told the National Press Club.

But, he added, the military cannot provide the whole answer. "The security piece is a necessary condition, but it is insufficient in and of itself and it's taken us a long time to figure that out."