Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Saleh loyalists, foes at loggerheads over Yemen’s future


Al Arabiya SANAA

Supporters of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh held a conference on Tuesday in the capital Sanaa in a demonstration of force ahead of a planned massive opposition gathering on Wednesday.

More than 5,000 chiefs and members of several tribes loyal to the embattled president took part in the conference.

Loyalists gathered to show support and commitment to “constitutional legitimacy and dialogue” and to “reject violence and sabotage,” the conference organizing committee said in a statement.

Sheikh Mohamed Bin Naji Al Shayef, of the Bakeel tribe, the second largest in Yemen after Hashed, had said the conference would propose a roadmap to breaking the political deadlock in the country and would be signed by tribal chiefs.

“This document will put an end to all the illegal behavior that has been going on lately, such as spreading chaos, destroying public property, and terrorizing people,” he said in a press conference.

Sheikh Shayef said conference participants would take a firm stance against all parties that refuse to engage in political dialogue.

“Those who do not want to take part in dialogue are, according to all Yemeni tribes and all Yemenis in general, trying to drag the country to a civil war.”

Meanwhile, the National Assembly for the Powers of the Peaceful Revolution is scheduled to hold Wednesday an opposition conference also in the capital Sanaa.

The conference will select members of a national council to be made of all parties and groups taking part in protests against President Saleh.

“The council seeks to unify the efforts of all revolutionary powers in order to bring about change,” the opposition assembly said in a statement obtained by Al Arabiya.

The council will include 1,000 members who represent different opposition powers, according to the statement.

This will include parties and coalitions like the National Progressive Unionist Party, the Houthis, the National Solidarity Council, the Yemeni Movement for Change, the People’s Movement for Justice and Change and representatives from several of the country’s governorates, such as Maareb, Al Jawf, and the central regions.

The council will also include scholars, academics, journalists, businessmen, and tribal chiefs youth representatives who have taken part in the protests that call for the ouster of Saleh’s regime.

The opposition council plans to elect a presidential committee to rally domestic and international support and speed up the departure of the embattled Saleh.

23 Yemeni tribesmen killed in clashes with troops: tribe

August 16, 2011

Fierce clashes overnight between tribesmen and troops loyal to embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh left 23 tribesmen dead, a tribal source said on Tuesday.

"Twenty-three of our fighters were killed in fierce overnight clashes with the Republican Guard," said the source from the Bakil tribe, adding that the worst fighting was concentrated in the area of Sheheb Arhab.

The trouble began last week after the elite Republican Guard, which is led by Saleh's son, Ahmed, installed a checkpoint that allegedly harassed residents of the area that is considered the northeastern gate to Sanaa.

The source said troops chased tribesmen to their villages after few skirmishes, adding that the Republican Guard and the army had recently deployed reinforcements in Arhab, which lies 40 kilometres (25 miles) outside Sanaa.

Tribal sources claimed that the army was planning a war against the Bakil tribe, Yemen's largest confederation of smaller tribes.

But officials have claimed that gunmen belonging to opposition were plotting to take control of a nearby army base and the Sanaa airport.

Dozens were allegedly killed in clashes that erupted late July between armed tribesmen and the army at the nearby Samaa camp which the defence ministry claimed gunmen wanted to control in order to seize the international airport.

Deputy Information Minister Abdo al-Janadi accused Mansur al-Hanaq, a former member of the influential opposition Islamist Al-Islah (Reform) party, of being behind the attack.

A military official said "these armed criminal elements aimed to control the Samaa camp in an attempt to take over Sanaa International airport as part of their plan to overthrow the constitutional legitimacy and seize power by force," according to defence ministry website 26sep.net.

The Republican Guard has been fighting tribes in various regions of Yemen as several of the heavily armed tribesmen sided with protesters demanding the ouster of Saleh since January.

The veteran leader has been under treatment in Saudi Arabia since early June, after he was wounded in a bomb attack on his Sanaa compound.

Yemen leader Ali Abdullah Saleh vows to return home

August 16, 2011

President Ali Abdullah Saleh has vowed to return to Yemen, two months after flying to Saudi Arabia for treatment for wounds sustained in an attack on his palace compound.

"See you soon in the capital Sanaa," he said, in a televised address to his supporters from Riyadh.

Mr Saleh is clinging to power in the face of months of protests against his 33-year rule.

Both the US and his Saudi hosts have urged him to stand down.

The US is concerned that renewed conflict will bolster the power of the Yemen-based wing of al-Qaeda.

Mr Saleh is thought to have suffered 40% burns to parts of his body when his compound was shelled in early June. He was only released from hospital last week.

In Tuesday's televised address, he lambasted the opposition and invited them to go to the ballot box to resolve Yemen's political crisis.

He attacked the opposition parties and tribesmen who have sided with them as "highway robbers" and "opportunists" and told protesters their movement had been hijacked, one report said.

Renewed fighting

Mr Saleh looked and sounded fitter and stronger than on his last appearance, and many Yemenis who thought he had left for good will be frustrated at his doggedness, say correspondents.

There has been renewed fighting in Yemen, with a tribal source telling AFP news agency that 23 tribesmen were killed in clashes with forces loyal to President Saleh in Arhab, north-east of Sanaa, overnight.

It said the violence had flared following the installation last week of a checkpoint in the area, seen as the north-eastern gate to Sanaa, by the Republican Guard, run by Mr Saleh's son Ahmed.

Over the weekend a wave of fighting was reported in and around Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, where militants linked to al-Qaeda have staged a successful offensive since President Saleh's enforced exile.

A total of 17 militants died as well as three soldiers, a military official told AP news agency.

In Yemen, A Woman Leads The Call For Revolution

by Kelly McEvers

August 16, 2011

Tawakkol Karman lives in a tent in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen.

Every day and every night, she sleeps on the ground, eats on the ground, and works on the ground. Her husband and three children visit on the weekends.

"Today is my beautiful day," she says, tickling her 8-year-old son, Ibrahim. "The one day a week I can spend with my family."

Karman's tent is part of a sprawling encampment of tarp and concrete blocks that goes on for a mile down Sanaa's main street. Set up by anti-government protesters, it's known as Change Square.

And Karman is known as the woman behind the revolution.

Of all the Arab countries that have erupted in protest this year, Yemen has been at it the longest. The country is now in its seventh month of turmoil, with no end in sight.

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh was badly wounded by an explosion at his palace mosque in June, and has been recovering in Saudi Arabia ever since.

But he still insists he is the country's ruler, and protesters have resolved to stay in the streets until he and his sons and nephews step down.

For Karman, the need for change became clear years ago. She first worked as a journalist, then began organizing protests.

"We were little, then we become more and more. Sometimes maybe 400, 500, sometimes more than 10,000," she says.

Back then, each protest was about a single issue: the jailing of a journalist, a land grab, a corrupt official.

Authorities in male-dominated Yemeni society thought they could shut Karman up by sending threats to her male friends and relatives. The worst one, she says, came in 2007, when someone told her they would kill her, kidnap her children and throw them from a mountain.

But Karman didn't stop organizing protests. Looking back now, though, she says they did little good.

Everything changed with the uprising in Tunisia and the fall of the first Arab dictator in January.

In Yemen, Karman and a dozen or so students marched toward the Tunisian Embassy. Security forces came after them and tried to take their cameras.

Karman later called a meeting to plan the next protest.

"We must not lose this moment," she told the students. "This is the only solution to save our country."

The next day, the group again marched to the Tunisian Embassy.

For the first time, Karman heard Yemenis utter what has now become the signature phrase of the Arab revolutions — "the people want the fall of the regime."

Karman realized her project was about much more than individual issues.

"We have to start our country from new. We have to own our own country," she says.

The protests spread to cities and towns around Yemen. In Egypt, protesters were assembling in a single square. In Yemen, they gathered in squares, some 20 in all.

Then, on March 18, security forces fired into Sanaa's Change Square, killing dozens and wounding hundreds more. Karman saw friends lying on the ground, shot in the head. Survivors were too dazed to move.

"I couldn't cry. It isn't good for me to cry in front of them," Karman says.

Instead, after helping get people to the hospital, Karman climbed onto the square's main stage and gave a speech.

"All your bullets, all your violence will not stop us. Kill everybody that you want. We will not stop our struggle," she said.

And so the protests in Yemen grew to the hundreds of thousands. Generals, politicians, tribesmen joined Karman's revolution.

Three times, Yemen's president agreed to sign a plan that would ease him out of power. And three times he backed out on his promise.

Since the June bombing and Saleh's departure, gas shortages, electricity outages and more violence have plagued the country. Many Yemenis now say they're growing tired of the revolution. They just want life to be back to normal.

"They said, 'OK why don't they finish the revolution?' They are right. We have to finish it. And we will," Karman says.

But how? Karman says it's not just the revolution that's to blame. Saudi Arabia and the U.S. should push harder for Saleh and his relatives to step down.

"Because Tunisia and Egypt, when they reached this point, all the international society stand with them. They said that their regime has to step down and has to leave now," she says.

But in Yemen, the international community is working to negotiate a solution with Saleh and his relatives. In addition, there is talk of finding a role for the older, more established political parties. Karman says they will do anything they can to secure positions in a new government.

Karman and her supporters have set up their own transitional government, ready to take the place of the president and the Parliament. It's a bold move that so far has not been formally recognized by the international community.

Karman says she has learned her lesson from Tunisia and Egypt. In those countries, the dictators fell fast, and then the hard work began.

In Yemen, she says the hard work is happening now — late into the night, in the squares.

"Yes, I want to go home. But I will not go home immediately after we finish everything. We will not repeat the mistakes that people in Egypt they did, when they leave the squares," she says.

Karman says she will stay in Change Square until democracy is guaranteed for Yemen — even if that takes seven more months, on the ground, in the tent.

New evidence links Iran to terror group

August 16, 2011
By Courtney Kube

NBC News producer

U.S. officials tell NBC News that there is new evidence that Iran may be supplying goods to the terror group that U.S. intelligence officials consider to be the most dangerous threat to the United States -- al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Over the weekend, the Indian Navy intercepted a ship -- the MV Nafis-I -- off the coast of Mumbai. Indian sailors found several weapons (including a few AK-47s and a pistol), but mostly just food and supplies on board. The ship had a crew of several Yemeni nationals, along with at least one Somali, and several others from other nearby African countries.

A U.S. official says that the ship left Iran several days ago and that U.S. assets tracked the ship as a "vessel of interest" for a few days and then provided information to the Indian Navy so they could intercept it.

U.S. intelligence officials say that the ship was headed to Yemen and they believe it was bringing the goods to AQAP.

"We were cognizant of this vessel and what it was intending to do," one U.S. official said, adding that, "we go on our best intelligence." The official explained that if a ship is transporting goods to supply a terror network, then the vessel is in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution and is subject to boarding.

The official acknowledged that there were not many weapons on the ship when it was boarded, but also pointed out that it is common for crews to throw weapons overboard when a military vessel approaches.

A senior defense official said that if Iran is aiding AQAP, that would be "highly unusual," but added that there is clear evidence that Iran has supported other branches of al-Qaida in the recent past, including al-Qaida in Iraq.