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Yemen on Brink After Shelling Wounds President Saleh and Top Government Officials

Top Yemeni officials in Saudi Arabia for treatment


Arab News, Jun 4, 2011 12:35 Updated: Jun 4, 2011 15:27

SANAA, Yemen:

Several top Yemeni officials were sent to Saudi Arabia for treatment of wounds they suffered in a rebel rocket attack on the presidential palace, the official government news agency reported Saturday. President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was slightly injured in the attack, was still in his country, Yemeni and Saudi officials said.

An Al Arabiya TV report saying Saleh was among those who were flown to Saudi Arabia sparked a flurry of denials from Yemeni and Saudi officials.

"He has no intention of leaving (his country),” said a source close to the Saudi royal family.

When asked whether Saleh was in Saudi Arabia, the source said: “No.” He spoke on condition of anonymity.

Yemen's deputy information minister also told Al Arabiya that its report was not true and said Saleh was still in Yemen.

Hisham Sharaf, minister of trade and industry, said he met with Saleh Friday night and that the president remained defiant in the face of escalating violence. Months of peaceful demonstrations to oust the regime have become a raging military conflict in the capital and elsewhere.

“He was in very high morale. The strike that doesn’t break you makes you stronger. The strike made him more admant that he won’t handover the country until he is sure it will be safe and clear of militias.” Sharaf said. He said he spoke with Saleh at a military hospital Friday night where he was treated for minor wounds before returning to the presidential palace.

Tribal and medical officials said, meanwhile, that 10 tribesmen were killed and 35 injured in overnight fighting in the Hassaba neighborhood, headquarters of opposition Sheik Sadeq Al-Ahmar. A tribal leader said street fighting lasted until dawn. Many of the compound’s buildings and surrounding houses have already been heavily damaged by days of bombardment.

Government and rebel forces exchanged rocket fire, damaging a contested police station. The rockets rained down on streets housing government buildings that had been taken over by tribesmen.

Since violence erupted in the city on May 23, residents have been hiding in basements as the two sides fight for control of government ministries and hammer one another in artillery duels and gunbattles, rattling neighborhoods and sending palls of smoke over the city.

Seven guards were killed in the rebel strike on the mosque in the presidential palace compound where Saleh and the other officials were at prayer. The news agency said the prime minister, a deputy prime minister, the president’s top security adviser, and the two heads of parliament were sent to Saudi Arabia by air in the early hours Saturday.

The security officer reportedly was in serious condition.

As for Saleh’s injuries, Deputy Information Minister Abdu Al-Janadi spoke of only “scratches to his face.” But there were indications the injuries may have been more severe. Saleh, in his late 60s, was taken to a Defense Ministry hospital, while officials promised repeatedly that he would soon appear in public. But by late Saturday morning, state television had aired only an audio message from the president, with an old still photo.

“If you are well, I am well,” Saleh said in the brief message, addressing Yemenis. He spoke in a labored voice, his breathing at times heavy. He blamed the rocket attack on “this armed gang of outlaws,” referring to the tribal fighters, and called on “all sons of the military around the country to confront” them.

The bold assault directly on the president is likely to heighten what has been an increasingly brutal fight between Saleh’s forces and the heavily armed tribesmen loyal to Al-Ahmar.

The bloodshed comes as nearly four months of protests and international diplomacy have failed to oust Yemen’s leader of 33 years.

The White House called on all sides to stop the fighting, which has killed more than 160 people.

“Violence cannot resolve the issues that confront Yemen, and today’s events cannot be a justification for a new round of fighting,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

President Barack Obama’s Homeland Security and Counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, discussed the crisis in Yemen with officials in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates during a three-day visit to the Gulf that ended Friday. He vowed to work with Yemen’s powerful neighbors to stop the violence.

Washington fears the chaos will undermine the Yemen government’s US-backed campaign against Al-Qaeda’s branch in the country, which has attempted a number of attacks against the United States. Saleh has been a crucial US ally in the anti-terror fight, but Washington is now trying to negotiate a stable exit for him.

Germany said Saturday it had ordered the immediate closure of its embassy in Yemen “because of current developments.” “The embassy team that is still on the ground will leave the country as soon as it is possible and safe,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, protesters have been trying unsuccessfully since February to oust Saleh with a wave of peaceful protests that have brought out hundreds of thousands daily in Sanaa and other cities.

Now the crisis has transformed into a power struggle between two of Yemen’s most powerful families — Saleh’s, which dominates the security forces, and the Al-Ahmar clan, which leads Yemen’s strongest tribal confederation, known as the Hashid. The confederation is grouped around 10 tribes across the north.

Al-Ahmar announced the Hashid’s support for the protest movement in March, and his fighters adhered to the movement’s nonviolence policy. But last week, Saleh’s forces moved against Al-Ahmar’s fortress-like residence in Sanaa, and the tribe’s fighters rose up in fury.

Friday’s attack was the first time the tribesmen have directly targeted the president. At least three rockets hit in and around Saleh’s palace compound in Friday’s strike, one of them hitting the front of the mosque, where he and his officials were lined up in prayer, according to a presidential statement.

The Al-Ahmars were once uneasy allies of Saleh, and their Hashid confederation was key to his hold on power. But Sadeq Al-Ahmar and his nine brothers have grown increasingly resentful of Saleh’s policy of elevating his sons, nephews and other relatives to dominate regime positions, particularly in the security forces.

Their fight comes as Saleh’s forces continue to crack down on the tens of thousands of demonstrators still massing daily in a central square of Sanaa and in other cities.

Troops fired on protesters Friday in the city of Taiz, south of the capital, wounding two. A Defense Ministry statement said four soldiers were killed and 26 others injured in clashes there with gunmen it said were from the opposition and Islamist groups.

Yemen on brink after shelling wounds president

Published today, June 4, 2011, 12:00

SANAA, Yemen (AFP) --

Yemen teetered on the brink of a civil war as embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh vowed to hit back after being wounded when shells fired by dissident tribesmen slammed into his compound.

Saleh, who has faced nationwide protests against his rule for the past four months, was "lightly wounded in the back of his head," a leader of the ruling General People's Congress party told AFP on Saturday.

His regime blamed the attack on powerful dissident tribesman Sheikh Sadiq Al-Ahmar, whose fighters have been battling government forces in the Yemeni capital since a truce crumbled on Tuesday.

"The Ahmar [tribe] have crossed all red lines," GPC spokesman Tariq al-Shami said.

In an audio statement broadcast late Friday on state television, Saleh who was being treated at the defense ministry hospital in Sanaa said, "I am well, in good health," and added that the bombardment had killed seven people.

Saleh, who has been in power in Sanaa since 1978, hit out at "the sons of Al-Ahmar," a reference to Sheikh Sadiq and his brothers, and called on "the security forces to purge state institutions of these gangs."

The attack reportedly killed three officers of the elite Republican Guard.

Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujawar also suffered burns to his face, while a source close to the presidency said deputy premier General Rashad al-Alimi was "critically wounded."

Officials said the wounded included parliament chief Yahya al-Raie, Saleh's private secretary Abdo Burji, Abdulaziz Abdulghani, head of Yemen's consultative council, GPC MP Yasser al-Awadi, Sanaa Governor Noman Duweik and the mosque's imam.

Washington condemned the violence.

"The United States condemns in the strongest terms the senseless acts of violence today in Yemen, including the attack against the presidential palace compound in Sanaa as well as other attacks in Sanaa and throughout the country," the White House said.

"We call on all sides to cease hostilities immediately and to pursue an orderly and peaceful process of transferring political power as called for in the GCC-brokered agreement," it said, referring to the regional Gulf Cooperation Council bloc.

After Saleh last month refused to sign a GGC plan for him to step down in return for immunity, opposition tribesmen seized public buildings in Sanaa, sparking clashes with troops loyal to the president.

In the wake of the latest escalation, the European Union activated a mechanism to evacuate its citizens, foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said. Germany on Saturday ordered the closure of its embassy and rapid repatriation of its staff.

Friday's mosque attack came as fighting that has killed scores of people in north Sanaa spread to the capital's south.

Later on Friday, Yemeni troops, who have deployed heavy weaponry in their battle against the tribesmen, shelled the home of Sheikh Hamid, a brother of Sheikh Sadiq.

Shelling in Hada neighborhood also targeted the homes of their two other brothers, Hemyar and Mizhij, and that of dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.

Sheikh Hamid accused Saleh of orchestrating the mosque attack as an "excuse to shell and destroy my home and the homes of my brothers, Hemyar and Mizhij, and that of Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar in an attempt to drag Yemen into civil war."

Saleh last month ordered the arrest of the 10 Ahmar brothers, all sons of Sheikh Abdullah al-Ahmar who was the president's main ally until his death.

Artillery and heavy machine-gun fire rocked the Al-Hasaba neighborhood of northern Sanaa where Sheikh Sadiq has his base, witnesses said. They said the headquarters of national airline Yemenia was burnt down on Friday.

More than 60 people have now been confirmed killed in the fighting in Sanaa since a fragile four-day truce collapsed between Ahmar's tribesmen and troops loyal to Saleh.

Hundreds of anti-Saleh demonstrators on Friday gathered at Change Square for a day of solidarity with Taez, south of Sanaa, where security forces this week smashed a months-long sit-in protest at a cost of more than 50 lives.

In Taez, clashes on Friday killed four soldiers and two protesters, a security official told AFP, adding that some of the demonstrators were armed.

Nationwide, more than 200 demonstrators have been killed since the protests erupted, according to an AFP tally based on reports from medics and rights activists.


Yemeni President blames palace attack on 'outlaw gang'

Embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has blamed an "outlaw gang" for Friday's rocket attack on his compound in Sanaa, in which he and other senior officials were injured.

Date created : 04/06/2011

By FRANCE 24 (video)

France 24, News Wires (text)


Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh blamed an 'outlaw gang' among his tribal enemies for a shelling attack on a mosque in the presidential compound that slightly injured him and several aides and killed seven people.

The attack on Friday took place amid fierce fighting in the capital Sanaa and a widening conflict elsewhere in the impoverished country, where an uprising against Saleh is challenging his nearly 33 years in power.

Global powers are worried that Yemen, home to a wing of the militant group al Qaeda known as AQAP and bordering the world's biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia, could become a failed state and make Gulf oil shipments more vulnerable to attack.

Speaking only via audio in a televised speech on Friday night, Saleh blamed the attack on the powerful Hashed tribe led by Sadeq al-Ahmar who has been battling Saleh loyalists in Sanaa. Ahmar later denied responsibility.

"I salute our armed forces and the security forces for standing up firmly to confront this challenge by an outlaw gang that has nothing to do with the so-called youth revolution," Saleh said. "Seven officers were martyred."

The deputy information minister said earlier that Saleh, 69, had suffered minor injuries but was in good health.

A senior diplomat said the prime minister, his deputy, the parliament speaker and other aides were hurt in the attack.

Yemen has tipped swiftly towards civil war this week, with Hashed tribesmen battling Saleh forces in Sanaa. More than 370 people have been killed since a popular uprising against Saleh began in January, at least 155 of them in the last 10 days.

On Friday, fierce fighting engulfed the capital, where residents cowered in their homes as explosions rocked the city.

"A cowardly attack with an explosive projectile took place during Friday prayers at the presidential palace mosque where ... Saleh and senior government officials were present," state news agency Saba said.

Forces loyal to Saleh later shelled the homes of the leaders of the Hashed tribal federation, security sources said.

The United States and the European Union condemned the rising violence and urged Saleh to accept a peaceful transfer of power.
 has exasperated his former U.S. and Saudi allies who had once seen him as a key partner in efforts to combat al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Defying world pressure, Saleh has thrice reneged on a deal brokered by Gulf states for him to quit in return for immunity from prosecution, even as he loses support at home.

Yemen's increasingly bloody struggle looks sure to go on as long as Saleh refuses to step down and it will complicate the already formidable challenge of uniting the country and rebuilding shattered state institutions in any post-Saleh era.

One constant factor is poverty. Jobs and food are scarce, corruption is rampant and two-fifths of the 23 million people struggle to live on less than $2 a day.

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