Friday, February 10, 2012

Thousands in Yemen back upcoming vote


10 February 2012

SANAA — Thousands rallied in the Yemeni capital on Friday to back a single-candidate presidential election planned for later this month that has sparked protests in the south, an AFP correspondent reported.

The demonstrators, who gathered in Sanaa’s Change Square — epicentre of a year of protests against veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh — chanted slogans in favour of the poll in which Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi will be the sole candidate.

“February 21 is the day on which Yemen will be reborn,” read one slogan printed on a large picture of Hadi brandished by demonstrators.

“We have all agreed that Hadi will rule for our country’s independence,” they chanted.

“Hadi, take the key, the slaughterer’s rule has ended!” they shouted, referring to the hundreds of people killed in clashes with the security forces since nationwide protests erupted in January last year.

The election is the one of the centrepieces of a Gulf-brokered deal Saleh signed in November with the parliamentary opposition, under which he is to hand power to Hadi after the vote in return for a promise of immunity from prosecution.

Unlike the poll, the immunity pledge remains deeply controversial with the Change Square protesters.

“Our demand will not change, we will not accept anything but a trial,” they chanted.

Hadi himself hails from the formerly independent south of Yemen, but the single-candidate election has proved controversial in the restive region.

On Thursday, security forces shot dead two people protesting against the vote in the southern town of Daleh, witnesses said.

Activists of the Southern Movement say the election fails to meet their aspirations for autonomy or renewed independence for the region.

Some factions of the movement have been campaigning for a boycott. Its hardline pro-independence wing, led by former southern leader Ali Salem al-Baidh, has called on supporters to disrupt the poll.

The south was independent from the end of British colonial rule in 1967 until union with the north in 1990.

It broke away again in 1994, sparking a brief civil war that ended with the region being overrun by northern troops.

Southerners have since complained of discrimination by the Sanaa government in the allocation of resources, and there have been repeated protests in favour of regional self-rule.

Protesters in Sanaa on Friday also pledged support for the uprising in Syria, where activists say regime forces have killed more than 6,000 people since mid-March.

“From (Yemen’s southern city of) Aden to Sanaa we will all sacrifice for Daraa,” they chanted, referring to Syria’s southern city which was the cradle of the protest movement.

The protesters hanged a dummy representing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The gathering took place after the weekly Muslim Friday prayers in which the preacher urged the Yemeni government to expel the Syrian ambassador.

“We call on the national unity government to expel the Syrian ambassador from Sanaa just as other countries have done,” Saleh Bateys said. “This is the least we can do for the Syrian people.”

Yemen’s six Gulf neighbours have decided to expel Syria’s envoys and withdraw their own from Damascus over the “mass slaughter” of civilians in Syria, they said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

Tunisia has also said it would expel the Syrian ambassador, and Libya on Thursday ordered Syrian diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours.

Several Western states have recalled their ambassadors from Damascus and the United States has closed its embassy there altogether.

Three Saudi nationals kidnapped in Yemen

10 February 2012

SANA’A: Yemen officials confirmed on Friday that three Saudi Arabia nationals had been kidnapped by al-Houthis fighters while crossing the Yemeni northern province of al-Jawf, which sits on the Yemeni-Saudi border.

The province, which has been under the control of Salafists, a group of Sunni ultra-conservatives, has slowly come under the control of the Shia militants, as their leader, Sheikh Abdel Maleh al-Houthi used the power vacuum left by months of popular uprising against the central government to resume its territorial expansion.

The group, which is now believed to be counting tens of thousands of hardened soldiers within its ranks is controlling the provinces of al-Jawf, Hajjah and Sa’ada with only a few pockets left of resistance.

The three Saudis were stopped at one of al-Houthis’ checkpoints near the Kingdom’s border and were immediately transferred back to Sa’ada, the group’s stronghold.

Ali al-Hamda, the Saudi ambassador to Yemen announced that he was carefully monitoring the situation, stressing that he trusted and applauded the efforts exerted by the Yemeni authorities in solving the matter promptly.

Several politicians from the Joint Meeting Party are saying that the kidnappings were politically motivated and that al-Houthis militants were following a foreign agenda in targeting Saudi nationals.

A recent report made by the Saudi intelligence services claimed that Iran which has for over a decade been financing al-Houthis’ political ambitions as they share the same religious beliefs would be now using the group to target the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and in essence conduct a war by proxy.

Moreover, Riyadh warned that Iran had already infiltrated many political groups and Media outlets to promote its own regional vision and slowly angle people into siding with Tehran against the Kingdom.

Several incidents in the Yemeni-Saudi border involving al-Houthis loyalists prompted a heightening in security measures with fears that the old border demarcation dispute will resurface. And the al-Houthis are already claiming some Saudi villages as their own

11 Somalis 'drown in boat tragedy': UN

February 10, 2012

Eleven Somalis drowned and another 34 are missing after a smugglers' boat headed for Yemen capsized in the Gulf of Aden earlier this week, the UN refugee agency said on Friday.

A total of 58 passengers were on board the vessel which set sail on Saturday before capsizing in rough seas on Wednesday.

Survivors told how the three smugglers crewmen forced 22 people overboard when the boat's engine failed soon after departure, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said.

"UNHCR is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life," the agency said in a statement.

An investigation is under way, it added. "We hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice."

The bodies of the 11 dead were recovered on beaches around Ceelaayo village, about 30 kilometres west of the Somali port town of Bossaso.

Locals found 13 survivors, including two women and a teenage boy and girl, most of whom were treated for skin burns caused by fuel inside the boat.

Last year a record 103,000 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants crossed the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea from the Horn of Africa -- mainly Somalis and Ethiopians. A reported 130 drowned.