Wednesday, October 19, 2011

UN Security Council to vote on Yemen violence

No objections are expected against a Security Council draft resolution on Yemen discussed Wednesday and voted on this week

AFP , Wednesday 19 Oct 2011

The UN Security Council will vote as early as the end of the week to condemn the violence in Yemen, where the situation is going from bad to worse, a senior western diplomat said Wednesday.

A draft resolution was circulated among the council's 15 members Tuesday evening. It should be discussed Wednesday at the level of experts and then submitted to a vote at the end of this week or early next week, the diplomat said.

The 15 council members have no major objections to the draft.

"I wouldn't expect that there will be a major problem," the diplomat said.

Despite months of protests and mounting international and regional pressure, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh, in power for 33 years and accused of corruption and nepotism, has refused to step down.

He has rejected a plan drawn up by the Gulf monarchies for a peaceful transfer of power.

At least 861 people have been killed and 25,000 wounded since the start of the protests, according to a letter sent to the United Nations in early October by the Yemeni youth movement.

Yemen's Saleh wants international guarantees to sign deal

Wed Oct 19, 2011

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Wednesday he was ready to sign a Gulf peace initiative calling for a transfer of power if the United States, Europe and Gulf Arab states provided guarantees for implementing the proposal.

Saleh has previously backed down three times from signing the proposal, which calls on the president hand power to his deputy ahead of new elections. Yemeni protesters have been demanding that Saleh steps down.

"Now that the president has returned, they say there is no need for the vice president to sign. Fine, I am ready to sign," Saleh told a meeting of party leaders in Sanaa broadcast on state television. "But provide guarantees to implement this initiative. We want Gulf guarantees, first, second, European guarantees and third American guarantees," he added.

11 die as 'thugs' besiege Sanaa protest

Mohammed al Qadhi

Oct 19, 2011

SANAA // At least 11 protesters were killed and dozens wounded yesterday when police and government "thugs" attacked a demonstration demanding the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, leave power, human-rights officials, doctors and demonstrators said.

Police and men in plain clothes opened fire and shot tear gas on the thousands of people who marched through Sanaa yesterday.

Five people were dead at a private hospital and a field clinic in the protest camp that has become known as Change Square, Dr Mohammed Al Qubati said.

At least 70 people were wounded, he added, and dozens more suffered from tear gas inhalation.

Witnesses also said government troops had carried away the bodies of six dead protesters, said Abdulrehman Barman, the secretary of the National Organisation for Defending Rights and Freedoms, a non-governmental organisation.

He added that he had received reports that about 400 protesters, including three women, were arrested.

The protests started midmorning and were led by shirtless young men who marched through the streets with the words "Leave ... you butcher" scrawled across their chests.

About 30 minutes after the march started, activists said they were attacked.

"Police and thugs besieged us from different sides and opened fire and tear gas heavily. Some people told some of us to escape to street allies, but were trapped as thugs started attacking them with daggers and batons," said Hussein Al Mulaiki. "I have seen several people killed and wounded."

Mr Al Mulaiki said he saw people thrown into vehicles or dragged away to other buildings.

Hisham Al Dayash, who was also at the march, said he saw at least four women dragged away during the attack.

"I saw the thugs beating some of our colleagues brutally with batons and daggers. Police have used tear gas heavily. Some fainted and they snatched them," he said.

Violence has escalated as the protesters, frustrated by the political stalemate, have begun to march out of their camp, which is protected by former government troops who defected during the protests, into areas under control of government loyalists.

More than 20 protesters were killed and hundreds wounded in Sanaa over the past three days.

In addition to the attacks on protesters, at least 20 tribal fighters, defected soldiers and civilians were killed in the past three days in clashes and heavy shelling in Sanaa.

Clashes and blasts were heard yesterday in north Sanaa after a short lull following battles and bombings on Monday and Sunday evening.

Late on Monday, Yemen's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Tawakkul Karman, said the UN must act "immediately and decisively" to halt the crackdown. Ms Karman urged the United Nations "to take immediate and decisive action to stop the massacres and hold the perpetrators accountable", in a letter to the UN chief, Ban Ki-moon.

"This is the only thing that will give Yemenis ... confidence that international justice exists ... and that it extends far enough to reach Saleh, his gang and all the despots who continue to kill innocents."

The UN Security Council is expected to vote this week on a resolution calling on Mr Saleh to implement the Gulf-brokered deal that would have him resign and transfer power to his deputy in return for immunity from prosecution for his family and inner circle.

He has backed away from signing the deal several times, even though his party and opposition have signed it.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said yesterday that "international law is pretty clear" and that amnesty cannot be granted to someone who could face war-crimes charges. The National Council of the Forces of Revolution, a coalition of oppositions groups, said yesterday that it was against amnesty for Mr Saleh.

The coalition called on the UN Security Council not to provide any immunity to the "head and pillars of the regime which committed crimes against humanity".

The council urged the Yemeni people to increase the size and frequency of peaceful protests.

In Yemen, schools become hostages of rising crisis

Erika Solomon Reuters

October 19, 2011

ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) - The playground of Aden's al-Haqqani school should be filled with squealing children at this time of year -- instead, goats pick through the brittle grass as young men doze atop crumbling school desks strewn across the yard.

The two-storey, faded white concrete building is one of some 76 schools in this port city -- half of the total -- overflowing with refugees from the volatile south as Yemen's humanitarian crisis worsens by the day.

In the south alone, nearly 100,000 people have fled homes shelled and razed in Aden's neighboring Abyan province, where the army has been trying to retake cities seized by al Qaeda-linked militants since March.

"Everyone fled. The ones who stayed are dead. We were so afraid when we ran, we thought that's it, we'll die," said Umm Sughair, a 45-year-old woman swathed in black, her furrowed, bronze face etched by months of fear.

"Now authorities say we have to leave these schools. We can't leave -- where could we go?"

Hundreds of displaced families ended up stranded in this southern coastal city without shelter before residents ushered them into local schools that were converted into refugee camps.

But the measure was meant to be temporary, and as the crisis drags on aid groups are pushing the government to move refugees into permanent camps so the children can start classes.

Aid organizations and many Yemenis believe the fighting with al Qaeda in the south is at least partially meant to distract citizens and international donors from a crackdown by government forces on protesters demanding an end to the 33-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, violence that has paralyzed the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state.

In the capital Sanaa and the industrial city of Taiz, carved into warring units by pro- and anti-Saleh forces, children in neighborhoods rocked by gunfire and shelling are trapped at home. At least 50 Sanaa schools are closed due to the general unrest -- more than half of those were seized by armed gunmen.

Lahej, like nearby Aden, says already some 34 schools have been closed to house refugees from Abyan.

"Should the current situation continue, every single province will be impacted, and many of Yemen's 4 million school-going kids could be affected," said Geert Cappelaere, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative in Yemen.

"If Yemen is to ever get out of its current, dire crisis, the single most important investment it can make right now is in the education of its people," Cappelaere said.

Yemen was grappling with poor education before the unrest. Some 40 percent of Yemenis suffer from illiteracy and soaring unemployment has especially hit the youth bulge of the country's 24 million people.

Cappelaere warned of a self-perpetuating cycle of violence should unrest halt schooling as poverty and desperation spread in a country where militant groups like al Qaeda are seeking recruits.


At Aden's Haqqani school, tattered mattresses are laid around classrooms as cramped, makeshift quarters that house as many as 19 people per room. The only room that seems bare is a store room -- it holds a few bags of flour and pieces of donated clothes hang from a chalkboard sagging on the back wall.

Umm Sughair cooks rice for her children on a wood fire outside, the smoke peeling the paint away from colorful school murals.

"I can't sleep at night, I think about home. We have no money, our homes are destroyed, our jobs gone. Tell me what I should do?"

U.N. officials argue that local governments may have created this problem for itself and ask why several empty housing units and a soccer stadium were not used to house refugees.

"To put it bluntly, kids and their education are being held hostage for political purposes," UNICEF's Cappelaere said. "They worry about damage to those private properties or the stadiums. They're not worried about damage to their schools?"

He said the government may be stalling both to focus international attention on the militancy crisis and to keep local coffers filled with foreign aid donations they fear might dry up without the publicity of the occupied schools.

Local official Ahmed al-Kahlani, head of a government commission for housing Abyan's refugees, said Aden was finalizing a plan to rent some buildings as new shelters or provide rental subsidies to refugees.

Until then, Aden's school administrators are struggling to cope. One district plans to use six empty schools for all of its 24,000 children by teaching on a three-period rotation.

Other districts have yet to offer parents solutions. Hussam Assam, a 33-year-old father of two, said he goes to school administrators daily to demand help.

"I've been following up every day with the education ministry. I've met the district officials. They're trying to convince the (refugees) to move out so we can have some schools free for our kids," he said. "It's exhausting."

Displaced families say they have heard nothing from the government, and fear being pushed out without alternatives.

Aid workers and refugees who speak to relatives still in Abyan warn the clashes with militants may worsen. Resentment is rising not only among locals, but the refugees themselves.

From the tiny classroom she shares with two other families, a frail 54-year-old woman who identified herself only as Mariam peers out the window at young men dozing in the playground.

"This war in Abyan, all of these problems seem to be part of some game. But they're playing with people's lives."

Senior Army Officer, 8 Soldiers Held Hostage by Al-Qaida in Yemen

2011-10-19 Xinhua

A total of eight soldiers along with a high-ranking officer of Yemen's armed forces were held hostage by al-Qaida militants in the southern province of Abyan on Wednesday, a military official said.

The eight soldiers of the 201st Armored Army Brigade along with their commander were held hostage in the al-Kud area west of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan, a local military official who asked not to be named told Xinhua.

The al-Qaida militants ambushed the soldiers' vehicle while they were on their way to shift guard in the al-Kud area where fierce clashes are still going on between the militants and the armed forces, he said.

"The abducted soldiers were taken to unknown destination and till now we have no contact with them," he added.

Abyan, some 480 km south of Yemen's capital Sanaa, has been the scene of daily fighting since hundreds of militants from the al- Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) seized Zinjibar and at least three other towns in May.

Yemeni military forces regained control of Zinjibar last month, but heavy clashes are still rocking the region.