Source: Reuters By Mohamed Sudam and Mohamed Mukhashaf 04/05/2010
SANAA/ADEN (Reuters) - At least three people were killed in a flashpoint Yemeni city, witnesses and local media said Monday, as fighting between security forces and separatists in Yemen's south turns increasingly bloody.
Government officials also raised fuel prices, effectively cutting subsidies for the second time this year -- potentially provoking anger in an already fractious, and deeply impoverished, country.
Violence in the southern town of Dalea erupted Sunday evening when an exchange of gunfire between security forces and separatists killed a passing motorcyclist, witnesses said.
Then Monday, a 70-year-old man was killed in clashes and three others were injured, according to southern media. Yemen's Interior Ministry said a 32-year-old separatist had been found dead in the same area.
The man had been shot in the head and chest, but the ministry said it was unclear who was behind the killing.
Separately, witnesses said separatists tried to storm a government building in Dalea Monday. Local media said the government, which sent in reinforcements, fended off the attack.
The southern News Web said groups of armed separatists launched attacks in several markets in Dalea early Monday and had briefly cut off streets connecting the city to surrounding villages.
Yemen, which borders the world's top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, faces international pressure to quell domestic conflicts to focus on al Qaeda, whose resurgent regional arm is based in the country.
North and South Yemen formally united in 1990 but many in the south, where most of Yemen's oil facilities are located, complain northerners exploit the south's resources and discriminate against southern citizens.
Yemen's south has several secessionist factions, most of which call for a peaceful resolution of their conflict with Sanaa. But a minority have taken up arms against the government to achieve independence.
The Yemeni government, struggling to turn around its economy, raised the price of gasoline to 70 rials ($0.339) per liter from 65 rials, while the cost of kerosene was raised to 45 rials per liter from a previous 40 rials, officials from the Yemeni Oil Ministry told Reuters.
Such moves have previously resulted in major riots in the conflict-ridden country that also faces dwindling oil and water resources. The increase in fuel prices took effect at 1200 GMT Monday, the officials said.
The government last raised prices in February, without incident.
Yemen's budget is strained by fuel subsidies, especially imported diesel, which cost it more than $2 billion in 2009, a senior central bank official said in January. The bill for diesel subsidies had been expected to be similar in 2010, the Finance Ministry has said.
Yemen, which has seen its currency weaken since the start of the year and last month replaced its central bank governor, said in January it needed about $2 billion a year in aid to stay afloat and double that to turn its economy around.
Of Yemen's 23 million strong population, over 40 percent live on less than $2 per day, and around one third are unemployed. A small oil producer, Yemen has said fuel price rises are part of reforms launched in 1995 to prevent economic collapse.
In 2005, the government reversed fuel price increases after 22 people were killed and more than 300 wounded in riots sparked by the rises in gasoline, diesel, and kerosene prices.
(Reporting by Mohamed Mokhashef in Aden, Mohamed Sudam and Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa and Erika Solomon in Dubai; writing by Erika Solomom; editing by Alison Williams)