Heavy Fighting Shakes Yemen Capital Overnight
Source :New York Times,01/06/2011
By NASSER ARRABYEE and J. DAVID GOODMAN
SANA, Yemen — Fighting raged in Yemen’s capital on Wednesday morning as government troops and opposition tribesmen battled for control of key positions including the Interior Ministry and the state-run television station.
At the station’s heavily fortified headquarters on a small hill at the edge of the city, government forces fired artillery shells at tribal fighters loyal to the family of Hamid al-Ahmar, the strongest tribal rival of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Violence flared again overnight in the Hasaba neighborhood of the capital, Sana, the scene of the most intense fighting between Ahmar forces and government troops, who renewed their pitched clashes after a brief cease-fire broke down late Monday. Tribesmen controlled large portions of the neighborhood on Wednesday, including many of the ministries and other government buildings located there, though the government disputed claims that the Interior Ministry had been overrun.
News reports, citing unnamed medical sources, put the number killed in fighting late Tuesday and early Wednesday at well over 30. Those reports could not be immediately confirmed.
The street battles here have reopened a central front for Yemen’s security forces, which have moved forcefully to contain multiple groups of opponents, including tribal fighters, militant Islamists and nonviolent antigovernment protesters — which have distinct and sometimes conflicting agendas.
On Wednesday, Kuwait recalled its diplomats from the country’s embassy in Sana because of the “deteriorated security situation in Yemen,” Kuwait’s state-run KUNA news service reported. A day earlier, Italy said it had temporarily shut its embassy and withdrawn its staff. The United States Embassy remains open, but last week advised all American civilians to leave the country
Fierce battles between Ahmar tribesmen and government forces in Sana began early last week after Mr. Saleh refused for a third time to follow through on a promise to sign an agreement that would lead to his resignation, which street protests have demanded for months.
The violence has driven many protesters to leave the continuous demonstration in the capital, which is protected by Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, the country’s most powerful military leader who defected to the opposition in March. While thousands are still camping out in non-violent opposition to Mr. Saleh, others have decided to join the fight. “For me and many others like me here in the square, we are convinced that peaceful means would not work since they did not work over the last four months,” said Ahmed Obadi, a young protester and teacher.
Late on Tuesday a missile struck the headquarters of General Ahmar, who has so far remained on the sidelines during the recent violence (He is not in the immediate family of Hamid al-Ahmar). The Defense Ministry denied firing the missile, and the general issued a statement confirming an attack by “land-to-land” missile without speculating on who might have fired it.
The missile attack came as state-run media reported that some of the general’s troops stormed the general prosecutor’s office, three miles west of Hasaba, looting documents. State media said that the troops had been joined by militants from Al Eman University, which has ties to Islamic radicals.
South of the capital, the city of Taiz remained in a state of lockdown Wednesday with security forces and Republican Guards moving swiftly to disperse even the smallest gatherings in the streets, residents said.
The city had been the site of Yemen’s largest antigovernment sit-in until a deadly crackdown early this week by government forces and plainclothes gunmen cleared protesters from the square they had occupied since February. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said it had received reports that as many as 50 people died.
Traffic returned to the square on Wednesday. The owner of nearby gas station said it was the first time in months he was able to sell gas.
In the southern coastal city of Zinjibar, bodies lay in the streets, witness said, as Yemeni troops fought with Islamic militants who took control over the weekend.
Nasser Arrabyee reported from Sana, and J. David Goodman from New York. Khaled Hammadi contributed reporting from Sana.