Thursday, September 29, 2011

Four killed in Yemen violence

Sep 29, 2011

Sana'a - Four people were killed Thursday in the Yemeni capital Sana'a and the southern city of Taiz in fresh fighting between troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his opponents, according to medical and media reports.

Thursday's violence shattered a three-day lull in Yemen and triggered fears that the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country was heading towards civil war.

Two people died and seven were wounded in Sana'a in fighting between forces from the elite Republican Guard and troops of dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.

A security source accused the al-Ahmar forces of shelling the house of pro-government parliamentarian Saghir bin Aziz in Sana'a, according to the state news agency SABA.

'These militias also shelled a school in the area of Jadr (in Sana'a), leaving some pupils seriously injured,' the source was quoted as saying.

There was no immediate comment from al-Ahmar, who defected from the army in March to side with the anti-Saleh protesters.

Clashes also erupted between government forces and loyalists of the anti-Saleh tribal chief Sadeq al-Ahmar in the district of al-Hasaba in northern Sana'a.

The capital was rocked by explosions, with one blast taking place inside a police camp located near the presidential palace in the city centre, reported the pro-opposition website Mareb Press.

Following the blast, vehicles carrying soldiers and weapons left the camp and were deployed across Sana'a, the website quoted witnesses as saying.

Later Thursday, thousands of anti-Saleh protesters marched across central Sana'a amid tight security.

A mass protest was also held in the eastern province of Mareb, with demonstrators demanding that the anti-Saleh troops put him on trial for the 'massacres of the regime.'

Meanwhile, at least two people were killed and nine wounded early Thursday when government forces shelled restive residential areas in Taiz, Yemen's second-biggest city, according to opposition sources.

The shelling prompted an exodus from the targeted districts, they added.

More than 100 people have been killed in Yemen, mainly in Sana'a, since September 18, according to local human rights groups.

Millions of Yemenis have taken to the streets since February, demanding an end to Saleh's 33-year rule.

Three hugely ambitious men

By Brian O'Neill September 29, 2011

The Yemen revolution, born in the flush of Arab spring optimism, has descended into a body-strewn battleground pitting three sides that are entirely divorced from the hopes and fears of the protestors on the streets. Increasingly, the voices calling for freedom, democracy and an end to corruption and nepotism have been overshadowed and overtaken by powerful factions vying to maintain the status quo, with the only likely change being a different face on the ubiquitous Arab iconography.

Before we get into these factions, it is important to remember how we got here. Even prior to the Arab spring, Yemen had been boiling with three separate revolutions — the southern movement, the Huthi rebellion and the pervasive menace of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Only the first of these could be described as a democratic revolution, but even that was threatening to fundamentally reshape the geography and territorial integrity of Yemen as it shifted — largely in reaction to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's brutal suppression tactics — into a full secession movement.

Then came the thrilling cascade of toppled tyrants in the Arab world, led by Tunisia and Egypt. Yemenis joined in, forcing the government to alternate between crackdowns and time-buying face-saving gestures, none of which fooled the people on the streets. But the movement was not successful in toppling Saleh, who, while popularly delegitimized, still controlled the loyalty of important factions — and a not insubstantial percentage of the citizenry.

These factions are driven by family, tribal and institutional ties, and it is these ties that are now driving the violence. One faction is led by Ahmad bin Ali Abdullah Saleh (referred to as Ahmad to avoid confusion), the son of the president, trying to maintain the regime in the absence of his wounded and exiled father. Ahmad seeks to preserve the cohesion of the GPC, the leading political party, and controls the Revolutionary Guard. In addition, President Saleh's nephew runs the counter-terrorism unit, an elite force of approximately 20,000, whose definition of "terrorist" is broad enough to include anyone opposed to the regime.

The second faction is that of Hamid Al-Ahmar, one of Yemen's richest men and one of the heads of the Hashids, the largest tribal federation. Al-Ahmar commands many loyal tribal fighters, many of whom have always chafed at the control coming from Sanaa. He has long had his eye on the presidency and even before the revolution had openly split from Saleh.

The third faction is comprised of soldiers loyal to Ali Muhsin Al-Ahmar (no real relation, and referred to as Ali Muhsin). Ali Muhsin has long been Saleh's top general, but defected to the opposition in March. It is not widely believed the defection came from a deep love of democracy, but rather from spotting an opening to take the presidency for himself.

What you have is three hugely ambitious men, none of whom are averse to violence, using the honest aspirations of protestors as cover for their own goals. There are three related problems here. The first is that it is unlikely any of them can score a decisive victory. It is unknown how much loyalty they command, but it is fair to say at this point that no one has overwhelming strength. Even if one does triumph quickly, none of the three are popular. Ahmad is hated, a spoiled and violent scion of an unpopular president. Hamid is not terribly trusted — a billionaire in a land of immense poverty. And Ali Muhsin has a justified reputation as a cruel and blood-thirsty general. It is the author's opinion that Saleh gave Ali Muhsin difficult assignments to undercut his popularity and take the legs out of a competing power center.

The third and probably greatest difficulty is that these men are competing over Sanaa, and the capital doesn't carry much weight outside its own bounds. There are protests in all the major cities, many of which might be more important economically than Sanaa. Whoever takes over, assuming someone can do so, will have a restive capital and a burning country. They will have to contend with an emboldened Huthi population that has used the distraction to gain more autonomy, and a southern population that will be unlikely to accept any of the three men.

The West, particularly the United States, is still far more concerned with battling Al-Qaeda than it is with aiding a transition. The US wants a transition, and has cut off Saleh, but still thinks the regime is the best bet for defeating AQAP. This may be correct in the short-term, but it is a blinkered, parochial and narrow-minded view of the situation. The West needs to work with the protestors and stop mouthing democratic slogans, instead of empowering a military complicit in the murder of civilians and the perpetuation of the status quo. Even if AQAP is all the West cares about, it isn't going to be defeated by supporting the creators of discontent.

In a way, though, the US perspective is partially understandable. It is doing the only thing it feels it can do. The situation in Yemen is fluid and blood-colored, and the chances for a decent outcome are waning by the hour. This is a desperate battle over the last slice of an increasingly stale and desiccated pie, and the tragedy is that the people who most deserve it are the ones least likely to get a piece.

Brian O'Neill is an independent analyst specializing in Yemen and security issues in the Horn of Africa. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration with

Rival forces clash in Yemen capital

Sana'a, September 29, 2011

Fierce clashes erupted in Yemen's capital on Thursday between troops loyal to embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh and forces led by defected General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a day after tribesmen downed a warplane.

The firefights broke out in north Sanaa between forces from the elite Republican Guard, led by Saleh's son Ahmed, and soldiers from Ahmar's First Armoured Division, which provides protection for anti-Saleh protesters, witnesses said.

Republican Guard forces based in Amran Street were locked in a heavy exchange of fire with dissident troops deployed in Thalathine Street near Change Square where protesters demanding Saleh's ouster have camped for months, witnesses said.

They said heavy shelling believed to be coming from Republican Guard bases north of the capital was targeting a residential neighbourhood near state television, with residents pleading for help and to be spared.

Earlier on Thursday, loyalist troops clashed with Ahmar tribesmen in Al-Hasaba, in renewed fighting with the influential tribe whose leader Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar has sided with the protesters.

The gunbattle erupted a day after other tribesmen fighting the Republican Guard north of Sanaa shot down a fighter jet.

The military held opposition leaders responsible for downing the Sukhoi SU-22 near Arhab, 40 kilometres (26 miles) north of Sanaa, a region that is the northern gateway into Sanaa.

It also follows a large protest on Wednesday when hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated near Sanaa's Change Square, demanding Saleh's ouster and trial.

Saleh, who is under international pressure to relinquish power and allow new elections, returned to the country on Friday, sparking violence in which scores of people have been killed.

The 69-year-old president has repeatedly refused to sign a power transfer deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) under which he would hand over to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi in return for immunity from prosecution.

Hadi warned on Wednesday of civil war in the troubled country, in a meeting with the ambassadors of the permanent member states of the UN Security Council, the European Union and the GCC.

He said the current high level of tension "poses a direct threat to the general situation" in Yemen, the state news agency Saba reported.

"If the situation explodes, the (GCC) initiative would end, as well as all (proposed) peaceful solutions, and Yemen would enter the danger zone of descending into civil war," he said.

In other unrest, one civilian was killed and five others were wounded in overnight bombing in Taez, Yemen's second largest city that is also the scene of continuing massive anti-Saleh protests.

Meanwhile, youth groups said they plan to march on Thursday from their encampment at Change Square in north Sanaa to the south of the city where Saleh's residence is located.

"There will be an escalation during the coming two days. The youths will march... to Hedda Street, where the president's residence is," Walid al-Amari, a leading activist from the youth revolution committee, told AFP.

He said protesters want a peaceful march and have asked the leadership of the defected First Armoured Division not to provide any armed protection that could provoke Saleh loyalists.

"We have asked the troops of the First Division not to accompany us," he said.

Come to power is opposition's right but via constitution, President says

SANA'A- President Ali Abdullah Saleh said Thursday that it is the right of the opposition to come to power but via the constitution that shows the means of transfer of power peacefully.
The President made the statement during his meeting with head of the Yemen Scholars Society (YSS) Mohammed al-Hajji together with several Society's members taken part in the YSS's scientific meeting concluded today [Thursday] with a participation of 500 scholars.
Saleh pointed to the outlaws' crimes, topped by attacking military camps, killing soldiers, blocking roads, cutting off electricity, blasting oil pipeline, hindering oil and gas access to citizens and impeding the students' access to the educational establishments, stressing the scholars' responsibility to demonstrate the Islamic Sharia's judgments in such crimes that impact negatively on the country and citizens' interests.
"The country's suffering and the outlaws' crimes impose on scholars to tell the truth and advise those, who do not care of the country and people's interest", the President said, indicating to the country's crisis sparked owing to some political parties' intransigence.
"If the opposition, with no power now, perpetrates all the sabotage acts, what it will do when comes to power?" Saleh wondered, reiterating his call for dialogue.
The scholars, who tell the truth and criticize the outlaw acts, are accused by the opposition of telling lies, Saleh said, urging them to keep on saying the truth and fear none but Allah.