Saturday, July 9, 2011

Yemen: Tensions rise after president's speech

Various factions make plans after the injured president makes a shaky televised address from Saudi Arabia.

Amel Ahmed

09 Jul 2011

For the first time since the attack against the presidential compound which left him injured, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's beleaguered president, made an appearance on Thursday in a prerecorded speech that aired on state television.

His face appeared darkened from burns sustained in the attack, and he had trouble speaking. His bandaged arms did not move during the course of his seven minute speech. Speaking from Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital, where he is recovering from injuries, a defiant Saleh said that he would "confront a challenge with a challenge".

After 33-years of rule and six months of protests calling for him to step down, Saleh appeared as obstinate as ever, stating that his regime welcomes dialogue with all political parties within the framework of the constitution. His supporters dubbed the event as "proof of life" and took to the streets, opening fire into the air to celebrate.

Abdullah M Hamiddadin, a political analyst based in Jeddah, says the speech gave an important boost to his supporters and deflated much of the confidence of his major contenders. It sent a clear message: not only is he alive, but that he is still a relevant player. Hamidaddin - a direct descendent of the Yemeni imamate who was overthrown by a military coup in 1962 - describes Saleh as a genuine survivor. "He's - relatively speaking - still the strongest man in Yemen, or at least his team is. He has been a liability for the Saudis for a very long while, but a liability that they recognise they have to live with."

Hamidaddin believes the Saudis gambled on the Ahmar family, the head of Yemen's most powerful tribe - the Hashid confederation - as possible contenders for power. Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar came out in support of the opposition in March and many believe the Ahmars were simply using the youth protest movement as a stepping stone to power. "The Ahmars had their chance but they proved to be incapable of rallying enough support to tip the power in their favour," Hamidaddin said.

He argues that Saleh's own accumulated strength as manifested in the military, the enemies of his contenders, the absence of institutions, and the keenness of Saleh's tribe, Sanhan, to stay in power - are all factors that make Saleh a formidable opponent.

Possible motives

Others analysts however are unconvinced. "He appeared in incredibly bad shape and you have to wonder what the motivation was to have him speak in that kind of condition," says Grant Hopkins, a former political consultant in Yemen and founder of ICEX, a geopolitical consulting firm. Hopkins argues that the speech fails to accomplish anything and believes that with no resolution in sight, the Saudis are forced to keep Saleh in the equation.

"You have a robust secessionist movement operating in Aden coupled with the government's inability to enforce its authority against militants in southern Yemen. There's also the problem of the collapsing economy and a humanitarian crisis that's unfolding," Hopkins said. "'Proof of life' doesn't signal a comeback. In an age of instantaneous communication, a seven minute speech prerecorded in a Saudi military hospital just seems like a last ditch effort to prop up a leader of a government which can no longer offer a sense of political legitimacy or security to the people being governed."

Members of the youth-led uprising also debate possible motives behind Saleh's recent speech. Activist and organiser Izzedin Al-Sharabi believes that the speech will not have any effect on their movement. "We still want an end to this regime. Our problem is not with Saleh alone, it is with the entire regime. We seek an end to the corruption and our revolution will continue against the JMP and regime," said the activist, who also criticised the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), a broad opposition coalition of Islamists, socialists and tribal elements.

Freelance reporter and activist Fares Shamsan says the speech served to show his supporters and opponents that he is still alive. "He seemed confused. He didn't mention anything about returning to Yemen and focused on solutions related to the GCC. All this indicates he won't be returning to power." But whether he returns or not does not matter anyway, argus Shamsan. "Our problem now is not with him, but with the JMP." The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), formed in 2005, is a coalition of five opposition parties seeking political and economic reform. It threw its weight behind the youth movement early on in the revolution. Many accuse its members of hijacking the revolution for their own political interests.

Sidelining young protesters

Shamsan is less optimistic about the fate of the five month-old uprising, currently the longest-running series of protests in the Arab Spring. He is not alone in his feelings and many other youth in Change Square share his disheartenment. "Many believe if negotiations between the JMP and ruling party succeed, the youth will go on to accept the final agreement. The US and Saudis are still pushing for the GCC plan, which only seeks to divide power among the elites. We don't support negotiations with the regime, but it's no longer in the hands of the youth. The opposition proved to be weak in the weeks after Saleh's injury. We sat here for five weeks and did nothing."

Many demonstrators blame the movement's stagnation on the JMP and General Ali Muhsin, who are believed to be collaborating against the youth. "We believe the JMP used our movement to pressure the regime into negotiations. Once Saleh left, they turned against us," Shamsan said. "Any time we tried to demonstrate, the JMP would send Ali Muhsin's soldiers to push us back. The independent youth here feel like no one is supporting them. My view is the revolution will start to die once negotiations begin."

Hanna Bafana, an investment banker and attorney residing in the capital Sanaa, argues that Saleh's departure helped to solidify his position in Yemen. "The attack on Saleh caught the opposition unprepared - whether it's the escalation they promised, or some sort of structure for transition governance, nothing came about. It caused the movement to self-destruct and lose momentum, as infighting began and differing political aims surfaced."

Bafana says under the cover of the attack's aftermath, the regime adopted a wide range of counter revolutionary measures. "In Saleh's absence, electricity was curtailed, diesel and petrol supplies dried up, security went downhill, water became more scarce, Abyan and Shabwa experienced conflict, there was the al-Qaeda prison escape, and so forth. Within two weeks, the Yemeni public was largely blaming the opposition youth and JMP for the tense situation." On top of the accusations, Bafana says throughout the period, the opposition were kept off balance by repeated rumors from the regime of Saleh's health and return.

Notably absent from Saleh's speech was the subject of al-Qaeda. Saleh's opponents accuse the regime of cynically allowing Islamic fighters to seize towns in southern Yemen in an attempt to make Saleh appear indispensible to the war on terror. The United States recently began launching drone strikes to deal with the problem. According to Hamidaddin, the threat of al-Qaeda is greatly inflated. "It's more a tribal issue than one of militancy. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is not a legitimate threat. It's a burden; a hassle. It cannot sustain itself."

Hamidaddin argues that various tribes have always fought against the government and resisted its authority. With AQAP he says, it is no different. "Peripheral events in Yemen haven't mattered for the past 40 years, no matter how violent and massive they are. Such events have been happening all the time. The flavour of militancy doesn't change its underlying reality: a power struggle between local communities and a central authority that they don't recognise as legitimate. But all parties have begun to realise that they cannot exclude each other. There is a serious quest towards a resolution."

Food insecurity

In the short term, Hamidaddin argues that the situation in Yemen is so volatile that only gradual transfer of power can keep the situation intact. "Imagine what a sudden exit of Saleh would mean to the 50,000-plus US trained personnel in the special forces. Or to their elite security apparatus. This is not a country of institutions where you can take away the general, bring in another, and all goes as before. There is a lot of political activity behind the scenes working to create a resolution."

Ultimately, Hamidaddin believes that these efforts will lead to some form of coalition government. As for the youth-led movement, Hamiddadin says they were never serious contenders to begin with. "They ought to organise in political parties, but their influence will only come in the space which the main powers will leave to them."

Many analysts and observers believe the greatest threat to Yemen is not AQAP but its collapsing economy and the current humanitarian crisis. According to a report released this month by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the economic situation has deteriorated even further and if the currency continues to plunge, an additional 15 per cent of Yemenis will be pushed below the poverty line.

As the most impoverished Arab country, statistics show that one in three Yemenis is already food insecure and under-nourished. The prices of certain commodities have increased substantially since the start of the unrest and the cost of bread has risen by 50 per cent in the past few months.

A UN mission visiting Yemen released a statement this past Wednesday warning that Yemen needs urgent international aid to stave off a humanitarian crisis. "We remind everyone, whether government or non-government parties, that civilians should not fall as victims of collective punishment because of the power struggle," the statement said. "The absence of security, the spread of outlaws, obstacles preventing free movement, and the many outcomes of oil and power shortages have greatly influenced the economy and means of transporting food from cities to countryside."

Hopkins, the analyst, believes the longer Yemen is kept in political limbo, the increased likelihood of civil war. "There's a fuel shortage, people are starving, it's quickly turning to absolute chaos - Saleh's speech doesn't change that. The story that quite frankly no one is interested in, is the ensuing humanitarian crisis. Everyone is focused on Saleh and there is little interest in the suffering of the people as this political contest thrashes itself out."

Source: Al-Jazeera

Gunmen Ambush Security Patrol Killing Officer in South Yemen

Sana'a, July 9, 2011- An officer was killed and four others including one soldier and civilians injured when a security patrol was ambushed in Yemen's southern province of Dhale.

Local sources said the ambush took place after clashes between the patrol and armed people, believed to be separatists, who previously attacked a security checkpoint in Jahaf district.

The armed people ambushed the patrol after the clashes in Salaef village, the sources said, adding that head of the checkpoint was in the patrol and killed.

Three civilians were injured when their car passed at the area, they said.

A hunt was launched for the gunmen, amid insecurity plaguing most southern cities and continuous battles between the army and Islamists in Abyan province.

Panetta Says Defeat of Al Qaeda ‘Within Reach’


July 9, 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan — Defense secretary Leon E. Panetta, who arrived in Kabul on Saturday, said the United States was “within reach of strategically defeating Al Qaeda” and that the American focus had narrowed to capturing or killing 10 to 20 crucial leaders of the terrorist group in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

Mr. Panetta, who took over as defense secretary from Robert M. Gates on July 1, made his comments aboard his plane before arriving on an unannounced trip to Kabul, the Afghan capital.

They were Mr. Panetta’s first public remarks as defense secretary and among the most positive from a senior American national security official about the decade-old war against the terrorist organization, founded by Osama bin Laden, which was responsible for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Mr. Panetta, who as director of the Central Intelligence Agency ran the American commando raid that killed bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, said that one of his goals was to defeat Al Qaeda.

“Obviously we made an important start with that in getting rid of bin Laden,” Mr. Panetta said. “But I was convinced in my capacity and I’m convinced in this capacity that we’re within reach of strategically defeating Al Qaeda. And I’m hoping to be able to focus on that, working obviously with my prior agency as well.”

Mr. Panetta, who rarely spoke on the record as C.I.A. director but has a more public role as defense secretary, offered few details to bolster his statement that Al Qaeda was poised for defeat. But intelligence officials have said that computer files retrieved from bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, showed that the organization was in dire need of money and struggling under persistent American drone strikes on its leadership.

“I think now is the moment, following what happened with bin Laden, to put maximum pressure on them,” Mr. Panetta said. “I do believe that if we continue this effort, we can really cripple Al Qaeda as a threat to this country.”

Mr. Panetta declined to name most of the Al Qaeda leaders that the United States has identified but he said many have been on target lists for years. He made clear that two of the top targets are Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s new leader after the death of bin Laden, and Anwar-al Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric believed to be hiding in Yemen.

Mr. Panetta, in one of the most specific descriptions from an Obama administration official about Mr. Zawahiri’s whereabouts, said that he believed that Mr. Zawahiri was living in Pakistan’s mountainous northwest frontier. But he acknowledged that it was an assessment: “With these guys you never know. But at least the best intelligence we have is that he’s located somewhere there.”

Mr. Panetta indicated that he had raised the issue of Mr. Zawahiri with Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or the I.S.I. “One of the last things I did as director of the C.I.A. was to sit down with my counterparts in Pakistan and make clear to them that there are a set of targets that we have,” Mr. Panetta said. “And the more they can help us go after those targets, the more we will have the ability to achieve our goals in Pakistan, in defeating Al Qaeda.”

On who in Pakistan knew about bin Laden’s hideaway in Abbottabad, Mr. Panetta said he had “suspicions but no smoking gun.”

Despite the perils in Pakistan, Mr. Panetta said there were greater dangers to the United States in Yemen. “There’s no question when you look at what constitutes the biggest threat in terms of attacks on the United States right now, more of that comes from Yemen and people like Awlaki,” he said. He added that in Yemen “there are a number of operations that are being conducted not only by the Defense Department but by my former agency to try to focus on going after those targets. I would say that’s one of our top priorities right now.”

Mr. Panetta is in Afghanistan to meet with American troops and military commanders as well as President Hamid Karzai, who has had a difficult and tumultuous relationship with the United States. Unlike visits by Mr. Gates, Mr. Panetta will not hold a joint news conference with Mr. Karzai, who frequently surprised his American visitors with impolitic statements that required damage control afterward.

Mr. Panetta, who met with Mr. Karzai several times as C.I.A. director, said he was optimistic that things would improve with a new group of American leaders in Kabul. Lt. Gen. John Allen is to succeed Gen. David H. Petraeus as the top military commander this month and Ryan C. Crocker is soon to succeed Karl W. Eikenberry as the ambassador.

“There’s a whole new team that’s going in place in Afghanistan, with General Allen, Ambassador Crocker, myself now as secretary of defense,” Mr. Panetta said. “These are all individuals that have a good understanding of Karzai. And hopefully it can be the beginning of a much better relationship than what we’ve had over the last few years.”

Group warns Yemen troops may have killed civilians

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni troops may have killed dozens of civilians caught in the crossfire over the past two months as government forces battled al-Qaida linked militants in the country's restive south, a leading human rights group said Saturday.

Human Rights Watch cited accounts from several residents who fled the fighting in southern Abyan province, where Yemeni troops are fighting Islamic militants after losing control over the provincial capital, Zinjibar, and another town, Jaar.

In a statement released Saturday, the New York-based group also said the militants in Abyan "may have unlawfully placed civilians at risk by deploying in densely populated areas and engaging in looting and other abuses."

There are concerns al-Qaida's branch in Yemen is exploiting the country's turmoil amid a monthslong popular uprising seeking the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The president has been in Saudi Arabia since June 5, undergoing treatment for injuries sustained in an attack on his presidential compound, but massive daily street protests demanding he relinquish power have continued unabated.

The fighting in Abyan has displaced around 70,000 people who have taken shelter in schools and abandoned homes in the adjoining Aden province, HRW said.

"Civilians are paying the price," said Joe Stork, deputy Mideast director at HRW. "Both sides need to be doing much more to protect civilians from harm."

Stork also urged the government in Sanaa to investigate laws-of-war violations committed by Yemeni forces in Abyan and prosecute those found responsible for violations that amount to war crimes.

HRW said it could not visit Abyan because of the security situation but its statement followed interviews conducted in late June in the southern port city of Aden with witnesses from Abyan, including some who were wounded.

In one incident described by HRW, government forces in May retaliated after a militant attack by opening fire at a crowd in the central market in Zinjibar, killing six civilians and wounding 35 others.

HRW cited an unnamed witness as saying the troops shot at people "right in front of them as if they were chickens," then chased after fleeing residents, "continuing to shoot them as they tried to escape."

The group also highlighted another incident, when Yemeni warplanes in late June fired at least two missiles at a passenger bus on a highway near Zinjibar, killing six and wounding 12 people.

The government later said the incident was an accident.

HRW also urged armed militant groups in Abyan to respect basic human rights, "minimize civilian casualties" and refrain from taking to densely populated areas.

According to a statement on Friday by Yemen's embassy in the United Sates, at least 70 soldiers and 50 militants have been killed in the fighting in Abyan. More than 300 soldiers and dozens of militants have been wounded, the statement said.

Trial Opens for Suspects in Friday of Dignity Killings

Sana'a, July 9,2011-

Yemen started on Saturday the trial of 78 suspects accused of criminal acts against antigovernment protesters in the capital Sana'a including killing more than 60 protesters on March 18.

Security forces in and out of uniform and regime supporters snipped from rooftops protesters in the square of change outside Sana'a University after prayers on Friday of Dignity.

The killings drew wide local and international condemnation and triggered resignations from the Sale government and the ruling party.

Many suspects appeared in a court in western Sana'a, but the prime suspect, called Al-Baidhani, is still at large.

Media were barred from covering the trial, which was described by relatives of the victims as a farce. The trial was adjourned till July 18th.

The trial was held as the army continued to shell Taiz province in the south where hundreds of thousands of people have been calling for the ouster of the regime.

Locals said ten civilians including a teenager were injured and homes destroyed when shells fired by republican guard landed in the districts of Oseifra and Al-Rawdha.

Hundreds have been killed and thousands injured since protests erupted in Yemen in the aftermath of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings.

Source: Yemen Post