Monday, October 24, 2011

Yemen's Saleh welcomes U.N. resolution on power shift

Mon Oct 24, 2011

By Mohamed Sudam

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, facing an increasingly entrenched uprising against his rule, on Monday welcomed a U.N. Security Council resolution urging him to sign a Gulf-mediated power transfer plan, the state news agency reported.

It was Saleh's first response to the United Nations Security Council measure last week calling on him to adopt the blueprint drafted by neighboring Gulf states for parliamentary and presidential elections after a new opposition-led cabinet is formed and Saleh relinquishes the presidency.

Saleh has already rejected the plan three times despite escalating protests against his 33-year-long autocratic rule, saying he would only transfer power into "safe hands."

"The Yemeni president ... expressed his readiness to sit down immediately at the dialogue table with the Joint Meeting Parties (opposition parties) and its partners to complete the dialogue over the operational mechanism for the (Gulf) initiative as quickly as possible and to reach the final signing of the initiative and its immediate implementation, leading to early presidential elections on a date agreed upon by all," said a statement carried by the Yemeni news agency SABA.

Ruling Yemen since 1978 through a civil war and rebel movements, Saleh has clung to power despite an assassination attempt that sent him abroad for three months for medical care, breakaway generals and nine months of street protests.

More than a dozen people have died in the past week, the latest wave of violence in Yemen as forces loyal to Saleh clash with soldiers siding with protesters. Civilians and demonstrators have often been caught in the crossfire.

Two people, including a child, were killed in the city of Taiz on Monday when a mortar shell landed on their house, witnesses said.

Inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Yemen's loose coalition of student protesters, tribal leaders and dissident army factions has been pressing him to leave since January.

The interior ministry said on its website opposition "militia" had attacked an army base and an office of the state petroleum company.

In Yemen's turbulent south, two Yemeni soldiers were shot dead on Monday and three suspected Islamist militants were killed the night before in two sets of clashes in Aden, security and tribal sources said.

"Armed groups driving a car opened fire with machine guns on a group of government troops charged with guarding commercial warehouses," a security source told Reuters.

"Security forces exchanged fire for a short period of time with the armed groups leading to the death of two and the injury of two ... The armed groups fled to an unknown place," the source added. Eyewitnesses said the fighting had also involved hand grenades and that a government car had been burned.

In recent weeks armed groups linked to al Qaeda have targeted the port city of Aden, with suicide attacks on high-level officials in the army and government.

The neighboring province of Abyan has been in a state of virtual anarchy since militants suspected of ties to al Qaeda began seizing cities in the coastal region several months ago.

Yemen tribesmen kidnap Russian doctor: hospital official

Yemeni army troops take position in the Shabwa province in 2010

Sana'a, October 24, 2011

Tribesmen in Yemen's east kidnapped a Russian doctor on Monday to pressure authorities to release detainees belonging to their tribe, the head of a hospital the captive works for told AFP.

"The Russian doctor Wahid Rof who works for us was kidnapped by Al-Awamra tribe in an area between Shabwa and Marib" provinces, said Riad Salem, head of Al-Shifa hospital in Shabwa.

Salem said that "armed tribesmen intercepted a taxi carrying Wahid as he was heading to Sanaa, forced him to leave the car and took him to an unknown location."

"We are now contacting Al-Awamra tribe since the doctor works for us," after Yemeni authorities failed to respond when informed of the kidnap, said Salem.

In March tribesmen in southern Yemen kidnapped a Russian doctor who was also working in a hospital in the Shabwa town of Ataq.

At the time his employer said that the doctor was kidnapped in retaliation for an air strike by the Yemeni air force on a suspected Al-Qaeda training camp two years ago, a spokesman for the group said.

They were holding the doctor "to force the authorities to hold accountable those who carried out the raid on Al-Majaala," Mohammad Salman, manager of the hospital in Ataq, had said.

Yemeni forces carried out a deadly air strike on a suspected Al-Qaeda training camp in the village of Al-Majaala, in Abyan province, in December 2009.

The air raid killed 23 children and 17 women, a local official and tribal sources said at the time. The government said it targeted a suspected Al-Qaeda training camp killing around 30 militants, some of them foreigners.

Last year, a Yemeni tribesman with a grievance against the central government briefly abducted an Uzbek doctor believing he was a Russian before freeing his hostage when he realised he was a Muslim.

The abductor had told AFP by telephone that he wanted to swap the Uzbek for his jailed nephew who, he said, was being held in prison in Sanaa for stealing a government official car.

Yemeni tribes habitually kidnap foreigners to try to put pressure on the authorities. More than 200 foreigners have been seized during the past 15 years, with most being freed unharmed.

But five Germans and a Briton who were taken captive in June 2009 in the north of the country are still missing with no word on their fate.

They were among nine people seized in the northern Saada region, the stronghold of Shiite rebels led by Abdel Malek al-Huthi.

The three others in the group -- two Germans and a South Korean -- were killed.