Sunday, August 14, 2011

Yemen: 17 al-Qaida-linked militants, 3 soldiers killed in fighting

By Associated Press

Sunday, August 14

SANAA, Yemen — A new wave of fighting erupted in Yemen in a southern provincial capital that has been overrun by extremist militants, killing at least 17 al-Qaida-linked fighters and three soldiers, a military official said Sunday.

The official said the clashes took place in and around Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province. The city, along with several southern towns, has been overrun by al-Qaida-linked militants in the last two months of ongoing political turmoil in Yemen..

The United States and neighboring Saudi Arabia are particularly concerned about al-Qaida in Yemen, which is the terror group’s most active branch.

Al-Qaida-linked militants quickly overtook towns in Abyan and its capital Zinjibar shortly after the June departure of longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to Saudi Arabia. Saleh left for medical treatment after an attack on his palace.

Government forces have been trying to dislodge the militants from areas in the south, but they have only made modest headway after weeks of fighting and airstrikes.

The military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said 14 militants were killed in gunbattles with security after an ambush on two military outposts in the area of Dufas close to Zinjibar. Three soldiers were killed in those clashes, the official said.

Three more militants were killed in a military airstrike in the same area, the official said.

Yemen has been rocked by political upheaval since massive demonstrations began in February demanding Saleh step down after 33 years in power. The Yemeni president has clung to power even after several of his closest aides and top military commanders abandoned him to side with protesters.

Fighting erupted over the weekend in areas northeast of the capital Sanaa after al-Qaida militants launched a series of attacks on army positions, according to the government.

However, tribal leaders in the Arhab and Naham mountains said that the army was moving Saturday in to attack areas controlled by anti-government tribesmen. Tribesmen said they stopped the elite Republican Guards’ attempt to advance in clashes that killed an unspecified number of soldiers and destroyed two armored vehicles.

Government shelling in the area killed eight civilians, including two women, according to Sheik Hameed Atif. Other tribal leaders also reported airstrikes over the weekend targeting villages in the area.

Yemen opposition asks West to freeze Saleh assets

Aug 14, 2011

SANAA/ADEN (Reuters) - A leading member of Yemen's opposition called on Western countries to freeze the assets of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is clinging to power despite months of protest against his 33-year rule.

Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar, a tribal leader and wealthy businessman in Yemen's main opposition party, the Islamist Islah, also lashed out at Saleh's sons' "desperate" attempts to keep his family in power as their father recovers in Saudi Arabia from a June assassination attempt.

"I call on Western states... to begin proceedings to seize the possessions and money of Saleh and his family, because they belong to the Yemeni people," he said in an interview with pan Arab daily al-Hayat, adding those funds could be used to repay the country's debts.

The protests have paralysed the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state, where even before the unrest some 40 percent of the population lived on less than $2 per day.

Governments worldwide have responded to crackdowns on Egyptian, Tunisian and Libyan protesters this year by freezing their long-time leaders' assets.

But while veteran presidents in Egypt and Tunisia bowed to pressure they quit, Saleh has proved a shrewd political survivor, and officially remains in power.

Ahmar praised Saudi Arabia's role in mediating the crisis, dismissing accusations it is thwarting Yemeni demands for change: "I see the Gulf initiative, which was essentially a Saudi effort, as one of the supporting aspects of the revolution," he said.

Saudi Arabia has spearheaded a Gulf Arab plan to end Yemen's political deadlock by easing Saleh out of office, but he backed out of signing it three times at the very last minute, leaving Yemen in political limbo.

Last week Saleh said he would look at reviving the initiative, which would see him hand over power to Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, but his opponents question whether this is yet another stalling tactic.

"It's clear Saleh must realise his future as President is finished and that everything he is doing now is just a desperate attempt to implement his plan to hand power to his sons," said Ahmar.


Away from the negotiating table, one civilian was killed in the capital Sanaa in clashes between the forces of general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar who defected from Saleh in March and the Republican Guard, which is commanded by his son.

Residents in the west of the city said they heard the sound of shelling and heavy exchanges of gunfire.

An uneasy cease-fire mostly prevailed in Sanaa after Saleh flew to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, but tensions have been rising in the past few days.

The media centre for the protesters quoted a military source as saying a reconnaissance plane circling over the headquarters of General Ali Mohsen's first armoured brigade had been hit by an aerial defence system and forced to turn back.

Meanwhile, violence flared anew in Yemen's south, where Islamist militants have exploited a political vacuum, taking over at least two cities in the volatile province of Abyan, including its capital Zinjibar.

Two soldiers and four militants were killed in fighting on Saturday night when militants attacked an army compound and a sports stadium used as a makeshift military base, a local official said. Seven more militants were killed in air strikes after planes were sent to help repel them.

A loose coalition of tribesmen and the army last month launched an offensive to try to flush militants out of Abyan, but they have yet to regain much of the lost ground.

Opponents of Saleh, who earned U.S. backing by presenting himself as a vital partner in the West's counter terrorism strategy, say he has deliberately let militants expand their foothold in the south to convince the international community only he can keep al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing in check.

The United States and Saudi Arabia, both targets of al Qaeda in Yemen are worried instability there could create a much wider security threat.

Yemen warplanes raid rebels, 5 killed

Sana'a, August 14, 2011

Yemeni warplanes allegedly raided the hideouts of opposition-backed rebels in Sanaa province late Saturday, killing at least five gunmen and injuring 12 others, witnesses said.

"The Yemeni military aircraft carried out several raids on strongholds of the opposition-backed militants in Arhab district, killing five gunmen and injuring other 12 armed tribesmen," a witness told Xinhua.

He said three houses, a mosque and farms were damaged by the warplanes' missiles.

Other witnesses said the opposition-backed rebels, who are waging war against the elite Republican Guard troops to press for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, used rocket launchers to fire back on the troops' Samaa military base.

In Nihim district, some 20 km south of Arhab, fierce clashes erupted earlier Saturday between Republican Guard forces and armed tribesmen of the pro-opposition Nihm tribes, leaving at least eight gunmen wounded, local officials said.

No immediate reports of casualties from the side of the government troops were available.

he Defense Ministry said earlier that the opposition militants in Nihm, about 40 km northeast of Sanaa, and Arhab have been waging battles against government troops since late May, seeking to capture the Samaa military base, the Sanaa International Airport and northern entrances of Sanaa.

Military officials of the defected First Armored Division told Xinhua that the division, which was commanded by Saleh's half brother Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar who defected from the government and joined Saleh's opponents in March, sent 53 well-trained soldiers to back the tribes of Arhab and Nihm against the Republican Guards.

Saleh May Give Up Power Under New Yemen Plan, Official Says

Aug. 13 (Bloomberg) -- New talks on a transfer of leadership in Yemen foresee President Ali Abdullah Saleh surrendering power to his deputy while keeping his title, a senior official said.

The proposal includes the formation of a new government and elections for head of state, said the official, who was briefed on the negotiations. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to comment publicly. Saleh has agreed on the plan's outline, though details still have to be worked out and the opposition hasn't given its consent, the official said.

The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, citing unidentified people close to the Yemeni presidential palace, reported today that Saleh has shown clear readiness to hand power to Vice President Abduraboo Mansur Hadi. The paper said Saleh has asked that members of his ruling party be ready for all possibilities, including early elections.

Saleh is under renewed pressure to cede power after more than two months in neighboring Saudi Arabia, where he is recovering from injuries sustained during a June 3 attack on his compound. The attempts to revive a transition plan brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council are aimed at halting six months of unrest in a country that is the poorest in the Arab world and has been used as a base by al-Qaeda.

U.S. Stance

U.S. officials called this month for an immediate transfer of power, saying the process can happen even as Saleh, who has led Yemen for 33 years, convalesces in a Saudi palace.

"The issue for the U.S. is that he needs to transition the authority to the vice president, implement the GCC initiative, and leave office," Gerald Feierstein, U.S. ambassador to Yemen, said in an interview with Radio Sawa on Aug. 9. "Where he lives is a personal issue for him to decide and it's also of course something for the Yemeni people to decide." A transcript of the interview was provided by the embassy yesterday.

Feierstein said he has met with Hadi 12 to 15 times since the attack on Saleh. The vice president "has the full confidence of the U.S. government in his ability not only to implement the transition but also to lead Yemen through this transition period," the ambassador said.

Protests against Saleh began in January and swelled into massive demonstrations beginning Feb. 11. The protesters have demanded that Saleh leave, following leaders in Tunisia and Egypt who were ousted by popular revolts. The violence has cost businesses more than $17 billion and forced 500 factories to close, Deputy Information Minister Abdu al-Janadi said July 28. Industry and Trade Minister Hisham Sharaf estimated in June that the economy is at 60 percent of capacity.

The GCC, which includes the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, drafted a plan a few weeks after the unrest began that provides for Saleh to step down and hand the leadership to Hadi in exchange for immunity. Violence escalated in May after Saleh refused, for the third time, to sign the proposed accord.

Acting president warns opposition of dragging Yemen into anarchy

SANAA, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- Yemen's acting President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi warned the opposition on Saturday of dragging the country into anarchy, official Saba news agency reported.

"The serious consequences will affect all Yemenis if the opposition drags the country into anarchy or adopts any reckless and aggressive armed acts against government forces," the agency cited Hadi as saying during his meeting with Fiona Gibb, charge d' affaires of the British embassy to Yemen.

The impoverished Arab country has been gripped since February by opposition-backed protests pressing for immediate end to the 33- year rule of wounded President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

During the meeting, Gibb valued Hadi's efforts to ensure the country's security and stability and said "the British government is closely following up the situation in Yemen," according to Saba.

The British diplomat also briefed Hadi, who was assigned as acting president following Saleh's departure to Riyadh for treatment, on the efforts made by the British government with the Yemeni opposition coalition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) to end the country's prolonged political standoff.

The JMP in a statement earlier last week said it's gearing up to declare a "national ruling council" on Aug. 17 to rule the country during the post-Saleh transitional period.

The government, however, warned the JMP of forming such council, pointing that it "will spark a civil war because the JMP's unilateral action means the establishment of a state within a state."

The Yemeni rivals have so far reached no declared compromise. But Saleh said from Riyadh that he would search for appropriate mechanism to implement an initiative brokered earlier by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) with the opposition to ensure a peaceful power transition to his deputy Hadi, according to Saba.

The JMP's spokesman Mohamed Qahtan refused to comment, but said the JMP had signed the GCC initiative at the time that Saleh dodged the crucial deal on May 22.

The GCC initiative, which has been backed out by Saleh for three times, proposed him to resign in 30 days, as new presidential elections to be arranged by opposition-led national government within 60 days.