Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Yemen opposition forms council to oust president

July 19, 2011

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen's mainstream opposition coalition said on Tuesday it would set up a "National Council for the Forces of the Revolution" to lead efforts to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh and end months of violence.

The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) made the decision just days after youth groups and activists who have been at the forefront of six months of pro-democracy protests formed their own 17-member "transitional council" in a bid to force out Saleh.
The formation of two interim councils could further splinter Yemen's opposition in the fractious Arabian Peninsula country where Saleh, who survived a bomb attack in June, is clinging to 33 years of power.

A popular uprising against 69-year-old Saleh began in January and fighting between government forces and opposition supporters has taken place in a number of parts of the country, including the capital Sanaa.

The unrest in Yemen is being closely watched by global powers because the country borders the world's biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed al-Sabri, a JMP spokesman, said members of the national council would be announced within two weeks.

"It will be a framework for all political parties ... The aim is to achieve the goals of the revolution and overthrow the rest of this regime," he said.

Many street protesters are wary of the JMP, which was once part of Saleh's government.

"Their council doesn't add anything new for us," said Abdullah Mohammed, an activist in Sanaa.

Tens of thousands of protesters across Yemen, who have camped out for months to demand Saleh's ouster, have grown increasingly frustrated at their inability to remove him.

The United States and Saudi Arabia, both targets of foiled attacks by Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, have tried to lessen the turmoil by pressing Saleh to accept a transfer of power plan put forward by Gulf Arab countries.

Saleh, who has been in Saudi Arabia for treatment for severe burns he suffered in the June attack, has stopped short of signing that plan three times in the past few months.

Several cities in southern Abyan province have been seized by militants who the army says are linked to al Qaeda.

The military, backed by armed tribesmen, has so far failed in a four-day operation to retake Abyan's capital Zinjibar.

Saleh's opponents have accused him of letting his forces ease up in the south to stoke fears in the international community that only he stood in the way of a militant takeover in Yemen.

He has vowed to return to Yemen to lead a dialogue with the opposition and oversee a transition, a plan critics say is a stalling tactic.

Yemeni army shelling kills more than 20 militants

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni government forces shelled a southern town overrun by radical Islamists, killing at least 20 militants in the past two days, residents said Tuesday.

In the capital Sanaa, meanwhile, Yemen's disparate opposition groups announced a new alliance they say will unite all forces seeking to oust longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saleh, who is in Saudi Arabia for treatment of wounds from a June attack on his palace, remains in power despite more than five months of mass protests across Yemen calling for his ouster.

The uprising against his 33-year rule has led to a collapse in security across the country, the Arab world's poorest and home to an active al-Qaida branch, and the U.S. fears al-Qaida-linked groups could exploit the chaos to step up operations.

Since the uprising began in mid-February, radical Islamists have seized entire towns in southern Abyan province, and government troops have been fighting to dislodge them. Over the weekend, Yemeni army forces began shelling the militant-controlled town of Jaar in Abyan, and the barrage continued sporadically through Tuesday morning.

Jaar resident Walid al-Hawshadi said Tuesday he saw militants drive at least 20 of their dead out of the city for burial. All had been killed in the shelling in the previous two days, he said.

Other residents gave similar accounts.

The fighting in Abyan has caused thousands to flee since June, some on foot, many with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.

With Saleh out of the country, Yemen's opposition has tried to seize the initiative to push him from power, and a number of anti-Saleh parties and other groups formed an alliance Tuesday to better organize their efforts.

Opposition spokesman Mohammed al-Sabri said the group, called the Alliance of Forces of the Revolution, would unify the demands of Yemen's often scattered opposition to produce a stronger front.

"This is the horse that will lead the cart," he said.

The alliance includes opposition parties, defected military units, media, and youth protesters who have camped out in Yemen's public squares, al-Sabri said.

The decision to join the alliance reflects the dwindling hopes among Yemen's formal opposition for a proposal by the country's powerful Gulf Arab neighbors to end the crisis by having Saleh step down in exchange for immunity from prosecution. The U.S. has endorsed the plan as the best way forward for Yemen.

But Yemen's formal opposition, which helped negotiate the proposal terms, doubts it will ever be carried out. Saleh has repeatedly agreed to the proposal, only to back out at the last minute.

"I think that the Gulf proposal has been drained of its purpose," al-Sabri said.

Still, the disparate opposition groups have often struggled to agree on their demands other than the desire to see Saleh gone.

Last week, protest leaders announced the formation of a so-called shadow government that is to represent the thousands of demonstrators who have filled public squares across Yemen since late January.

Al-Sabri said he respected that move as a "courageous step by the revolutionary youth," but claimed his alliance would be more effective in achieving the demands of "the revolution."

Yemen’s Dangerous Hunger Crisis

The embattled nation is struggling to find food and water while the world focuses on ending President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s violent campaign to keep power, writes Ellen Knickmeyer.

July 19, 2011

In one of the cities at the center of Yemen’s revolution, tanks and soldiers of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s loyalist forces occupy the main hospital, turning away the civilian sick and wounded, and using the hospital as a vantage point to shell residential neighborhoods at night.

Prices of water as well as food have soared amid Yemen’s political crisis, so that ever more poor families are resorting to drinking water from rain and other contaminated sources, and new reports of cholera outbreaks are reaching the capital, Sana’a. Yemeni cities are emptying of day laborers and other poor, aid officials and residents told me, as men return with their families to their villages in hopes of escaping hunger.

Months of violent political crisis are depleting the savings and stockpiles of more and more Yemenis, so that not only beggars, but neighbors, come round to quietly ask for food.

“There’s no work, no water, no electricity, no security. When we sleep, my family and I are not sure if we will live until morning, because of the shelling on the houses, and the bullets all night,” says Ali Qassim Abdullah, a 44-year-old father of three young children. Abdullah spoke in Yemen’s southern city of Taiz, where loyalist units commanded by the son of Yemen’s president are accused of nightly—and sometimes random—artillery fire.

“The whole world is watching this happen to us in Taiz. And no one speaks or objects,” Abdullah told a Yemeni reporter in Taiz who helped me talk to civilians.

It’s not surprising that Saleh’s government, and his son and nephews in charge of loyalist security forces, are neglecting and even compounding the suffering of civilians. It was Saleh who has driven the country into chaos since protests started in February, and who ignored the fundamental needs of his people throughout his more than three-decade rule.

What is surprising is that the international community, which rightly has suspended development aid to pressure Saleh to honor his repeated broken pledges to resign, is also neglecting humanitarian aid for Yemen’s trapped civilians. The inadequate humanitarian response risks giving the impression that the international community itself is using hunger and thirst as political tools. U.S. and other diplomats have given no sign of pressing Yemeni politicians for a resolution with the urgency that the people’s suffering demands.

And the international media, focused on the political horror show involving the intensely stubborn Saleh and his supporters versus the rivals seeking to oust him, give little coverage to the worsening plight of Yemen’s civilians.

“This is not only a political crisis. We are having a huge humanitarian crisis at hand,’’ UNICEF’s Geert Cappelaere said by telephone from Sana’a.

Yemen’s conflict features Saleh and loyalist security forces led by his family arrayed against a variety of opponents demanding his ouster—including peaceful democracy activists, Yemen’s official opposition coalition, tribal forces, southern secessionists, and northern rebels. The primary focus of the United States has been on trying to block a Yemen-based branch of al Qaeda from taking advantage of the political chaos. Having belatedly concluded there’s no longer any prospect of Saleh being a stable partner against al Qaeda, the U.S. has joined a multinational diplomatic push for him to resign.

Yemen’s political conflicts reached a stalemate on June 3, when a bomb badly wounded Saleh in an assassination attempt, forcing him—along with many of his top officials—to go to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. (During Saleh’s decades in power, his government never bothered to provide even the most minimal health care to fully half of Yemen’s people. The World Health Organization estimates that officials stole or wasted half of what little they allocated to health care. Tellingly, as much as Saleh reportedly hated flying to Riyadh for treatment and risking a coup at home, his own neglect of Yemen’s health care forced him to do so.)

John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism adviser, visited Saleh’s hospital room in the Saudi capital earlier this month to tell the Yemeni leader that development aid would start flowing to Yemen again only when he honored his pledges to quit.

The U.S., Saudi Arabia, and some other countries have contributed some humanitarian aid amid the political crisis. But international lack of funding, rather than the lack of security, is preventing foreign organizations from doing more to help civilians in much of Yemen, some aid officials say. The World Food Programme, for example, was able to feed only half of 100,000 Yemeni girls targeted in the most recent round of a ration program to keep girls in school—because international donors had given only 30 percent of the funding needed for the program, said Gian Carlo Cirri, the WFP’s country director for Yemen.

‘’If the international community wishes to help prevent further socioeconomic disintegration within Yemen, one of the best things they can do is to support food security operations,” Cirri told me by email.

Of course, civilians are suffering and dying in other revolutions in the Arab world. The difference in Yemen is that civilians there already lived on the brink, owing to the corruption of Saleh’s regime.

Even before the political crisis, Yemen had the highest child-malnutrition rate in the world, Cappelaere said. Sixty percent of children under 5 are stunted by malnutrition, a rate worse than most of sub-Saharan Africa. Seven million of the nation’s 24 million people already lived on less than one meal a day. Armed conflicts that Saleh aggravated already had displaced hundreds of thousands, and further interrupted health care, so that Yemen experienced the kind of deadly outbreaks of measles and other treatable diseases that have racked warring Congo.

Since Yemen’s political crisis, tribal attacks and other disruptions have interrupted the nation’s fuel supplies, sending the cost of bread up 60 percent and the price of trucked water up a disastrous 400 percent.

Once the most fertile country on the Arabian peninsula, Yemen already was on course to become the first nation in the world to have its capital run out of water, as a result of the government allowing unlimited drilling of underground reservoirs. Since fighting started, water taps run once or twice a month at best, residents say.

“’You wanted the revolution, and you wanted to change the government. Now go to the sea and drink,’’ government water workers told Abdullah, in Taiz when he went to appeal for drinking water, he says.

Unable to afford water—like most day laborers, Abdulah has not been able to find work in the political crisis—he and his family drink stored rain, or send the children with buckets to collect water that sloshes out of the tanker trucks when neighbors buy water. His own savings depleted, and dependent on family and friends for handouts, Abdullah feeds his family little more than dry bread.

When Abdullah’s pregnant wife went to Taiz’s main hospital for treatment, Republican Guards occupying the facility turned her away.

Ever more Yemenis are begging on the streets for money to buy food, “complaining about how they suffer,” Abdul Wali al-Khuleidi, a botanist for the government, told me by email from Taiz. Even neighbors come to ask for money for food, and “this was not normal before.” Yemenis and aid officials describe poor Yemenis as selling off their few goods—from mobile phones to farm tools to jewelry–to buy food.

In Sana’a, “more than 50 or 60 percent of the people who lived and worked in the city had to go back to their village,’’ Ali, a cab driver in the capital who gave only his first name, said by mobile phone. “We are very, very affected by the prices,’’ said Ali, who is using his savings to feed his family after going one and a half months with no fuel for his cab. “We don’t know where we’re going and we don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

By necessity, ‘’there is a lot of resilience in Yemenis, a lot of solidarity. But it’s obviously going down every day,” Cappelaere, of UNICEF, said. “Traditional mechanisms to cope…have their limits.”

Ellen Knickmeyer reported from Beirut. Manal al-Qadasi contributed to this report from Taiz, Yemen.

Suspected Qaeda chief killed in Yemen: official

(AFP) July 19, 2011

ADEN — A leader of suspected Al-Qaeda militants in Abyan province in south Yemen has been killed by the army, a government official said on Tuesday.

The killing comes as tribesmen across Abyan began expelling the militants from the province.

Hassan Basonbol, who went under the alias Abu Issa, was killed in fighting with the army on Monday in Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan, where security forces have battled suspected Al-Qaeda-linked militants since May, the official said.

Meanwhile, armed tribesmen were able to expel suspected Al-Qaeda fighters from the town of Shaqra, tribal leader Mohammed Sakin Jaadani said.

The tribesmen were able to regain control of the police station in Shaqra, a clinic and a local government building, all without a fight, he said.

In the town of Wadia, police chief Abdullah Nasser said that armed men from his tribe were able to "expel Al-Qaeda elements," also without clashes.

However, suspected Al-Qaeda elements remained in the town of Loder, despite an order from tribal chiefs for them to leave the city, which was made during a meeting at the house of Sheikh Nasser al-Oudali, one of the tribal leaders.

According to residents, the militants ignored the call and remained in the town, despite checkpoints set up by young people at the initiative of the tribal leaders.

Militants from the "Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law)", which is believed to be linked to Al-Qaeda, remain in Zinjibar, and the area of Jaar to its north.

In a statement obtained by AFP on Tuesday, the Partisans of Sharia warned the tribes against the "risks of a plot pushing them to face" its fighters.

The tribes in the province, many of which had close ties with Al-Qaeda in the past, began turning against the organisation after thousands of Zinjibar residents were forced out when the militants sought to seize the town.