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News, June 2011
Yemeni Revolution Is Still Mainly Peaceful Despite Some Fighting in Taez and Zinjibar
US pushes for Yemen solution, Saleh vows return
Khaleej Times, (AP) 7 June 2011
With the wounded president out of Yemen, the United States and Saudi Arabia have scrambled to arrange a power transfer ensuring an end to his decades-long rule.
But a top official said President Ali Abdullah Saleh, recovering in Saudi Arabia, would return home within days, a step almost certain to re-ignite violence.
A return by Saleh would likely spark new, intensified fighting between his forces and opposition tribesmen determined to topple him. Both sides’ fighters were deployed Monday in the streets of the capital, and a cease-fire brokered by Saudi Arabia only a day earlier was already starting to fray, with clashes killing at least six.
Saleh was rushed late Saturday to the Saudi capital for treatment after being wounded in a rocket attack on his palace amid two weeks of fighting in Sanaa. His departure raised cheers from protesters who have been turning out in the streets by the hundreds of thousands since February demanding his ouster. To them, it seemed inevitable he would be unable to come back.
But Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is acting leader in the president’s absence, told European ambassadors Monday, ‘Saleh’s health is improving greatly and he will return to the country in the coming days,’ the state news agency reported. Saleh underwent surgery to remove shards of wood from his chest and treat heavy burns on his face and chest.
A renewal of fighting could push the impoverished nation into outright civil war. The United States fears that Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen could exploit the turmoil to strengthen its presence in the country, which it has already used as a base for plotting two attempted anti-US attacks.
‘We are calling for a peaceful and orderly transition, a nonviolent transition that is consistent with Yemen’s own constitution,’ US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. ‘We think an immediate transition is in the best interests of the Yemeni people.’
Furious diplomatic efforts were underway involving the Saudis, the United States, the Yemenis and Gulf Arab nations to work out a transfer of power, a US official said. He likened the complex process to ‘four-dimensional chess.’ The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The focus is on reviving a U.S.-backed deal mediated earlier by the Gulf Cooperation Council, a grouping of Gulf Arab nations including Saudi Arabia. Under the deal, Saleh would retire, handing power to his vice president, a unity government between his party and the opposition would be formed and presidential elections held within two weeks.
In the past weeks, Saleh refused three times to sign the deal. As he was being evacuated for surgery over the weekend, he defied heavy Saudi pressure and refused to even sign a presidential decree formally transferring his authorities to Hadi, a sign he was intent on coming back.
In New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he hopes for an early resolution of the crisis. Ban stopped short of calling on Saleh to step down. saying, ‘I hope by now he should make good judgment of his own.’
Saudi Arabia on Monday pressed Saleh to sign now. After a Cabinet meeting headed by King Abdullah, the Saudi government expressed its ‘hope that the initiative be signed ... to get Yemen through the crisis, preserving its security, stability and unity.’
The kingdom wields enormous influence with Saleh, providing his regime — and many of Yemen’s tribes — with substantial financial aid. But it is unclear how far it would go to push him to accept the deal or prevent him from returning to his homeland. It and the United States have been deeply reluctant to enter into an open clash with a longtime ally.
The original agreement called for Saleh to remain in office for 30 days after signing. But the Yemeni opposition says the aim now that Saleh is out of the country is to have an immediate resignation, make the transfer of power to the vice president official and move on with the deal’s provisions for a new government.
Abdullah Awabal, a Yemeni opposition leader who met a day earlier with the US ambassador in Sanaa, said the Saudis, Americans and Europeans are all ‘in agreement to implement the initiative now. There can be no waiting.’
But Saleh’s ruling party appeared to be digging in its heels. In a meeting of the party leadership with Hadi on Monday, hard-liners rejected any discussion of the initiative until Saleh returns, an official who attended said, speaking on condition of anonymity to talk about the session.
‘Nothing will happen without the approval of the president,’ Deputy Information Minister Abdu Al Janabi told reporters on Monday.
Saleh still has a powerful presence on the ground to back his hand: his sons and nephews, who command Yemen’s strongest military units and who remain in the country. Their forces remained deployed around Sanaa on Monday, locked in a tense standoff with tribal fighters. Saleh’s most powerful son, Ahmed, head of the special forces and Republican Guard, attended a session of the national security council with Hadi for the first time Monday — a sign that he was actively weighing in on the political situation.
Saleh’s family may have the most to lose in any deal, since many in the opposition demand that their lock on top government and security positions be broken.
Tribal fighters loyal to Sheik Sadeq Al Ahmar rose up on May 23 after Saleh’s forces moved against Al Ahmar’s residence in Sanaa. The ensuing fighting saw heavy street battles, killing dozens, with government artillery hammering Sanaa’s Hassaba district, where Al Ahmar’s home is located. Tribal fighters overwhelmed more than a dozen government ministries in the area. Al Ahmar leads Yemen’s most powerful tribal confederation.
Friday’s stunning rocket attack, which the government first blamed on tribal fighters and later on Al Qaeda, hit a mosque in Saleh’s palace, killing 11 bodyguards and seriously injuring five senior officials worshipping at his side.
Amid the uncertainty, the cease-fire was shaky.
Gunmen — apparently pro-Saleh forces — attacked tribal fighters in Hassaba on Monday, killing three tribesmen, Al Ahmar’s office said.
Late Sunday, pro-government gunmen opened fire on a checkpoint manned by a military unit that defected and joined the opposition, an officer from the unit said. In the clash, two of the attackers and one of the unit’s soldiers were killed, the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
Hassaba remained tense, with government forces dug in despite promises under the cease-fire that they would pull back from their positions. Residents trying to return to their homes in the neighborhood were forced back by snipers firing from rooftops, another pro-opposition military officer said. While unable to enter the district, an Associated Press reporter who reached the edges could see broken electricity pylons and shops and buildings pockmarked by mortar shrapnel.
Fighting flares in Yemen city
Khaleej Times, (Reuters) 7 June 2011, 12:30 PM
Fighting flared on Tuesday in a southern Yemen city seized by Al Qaeda and other militants, killing at least 15 people, after Washington urged President Ali Abdullah Saleh to hand over power peacefully.
Saleh left for Saudi Arabia at the weekend for surgery on wounds suffered in an attack on his palace in Sana'a — an absence that could be an opportunity to ease him out of office after nearly 33 years ruling the impoverished Arab nation.
Global powers worry that chaos would make it easier for the Yemen-based wing of Al Qaeda to operate and multiply risks for neighbouring Saudi Arabia and other Gulf oil producers.
‘We are calling for a peaceful and orderly transition,’ US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday, adding that this would be in the best interests of the Yemeni people.
Yemen’s acting leader, Vice President Abed-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, said Saleh would return within days, but the position of Saudi Arabia, which has traditionally played an influential role in Yemeni politics, could now be decisive.
Saudi officials say they will not interfere in Saleh’s decision to return to Yemen or not, but Western powers may want to revive a Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered transition deal that would have secured Saleh’s resignation.
‘Saleh’s departure is probably permanent,’ said Robert Powell, Yemen analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
‘The Saudis, as well as the US and European Union, are pushing hard for him to stay in Saudi Arabia, as they view the prospect of his return as a catastrophe.
‘Prior to his departure, the country was slipping inexorably into a civil wa. However, his removal has suddenly opened a diplomatic window to restart the seemingly failed GCC-mediated proposal. It seems Saudi Arabia and other interested parties are unwilling to allow Saleh to derail it this time.’
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has used its Yemen base to stage daring but abortive attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United States, seized the southern city of Zinjibar about 10 days ago with other militants. The city is near a shipping lane where about 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.
(Some Western media and politicians exaggerate the importance of AQAP, in order to smear the Yemeni revolution).
Locals and Yemeni troops have stepped up fighting to retake Zinjibar, local official said. More casualties are expected in the city, once home to about 50,000 people, but now mostly a ghost town due to the battle for control.
There was also fresh fighting in the city of Taiz, south of Sana'a. A Saudi-brokered truce was holding in the capital after two weeks of fighting between Saleh’s forces and tribesmen in which over 200 people were killed and thousands forced to flee.
Saleh, a wily political veteran, has defied global calls to accept the GCC-mediated power transition deal, backing away three times at the last minute from signing it.
Saleh, 69, was wounded on Friday when rockets struck his Sanaa palace, killing seven people and wounding senior officials and advisers in what his officials said was an assassination attempt. He is being treated in a Riyadh hospital.
The future of Yemen, riven by rivalries among tribal leaders, generals and politicians, is uncertain. Saleh’s sons and relatives remain in Yemen, commanding elite military units and security agencies.
Other contenders in a possible power struggle include the well-armed Hashed tribal federation, breakaway military leaders, Islamists, leftists and an angry public seeking relief from crippling poverty, corruption and failing public services.
Youthful protesters have been celebrating Saleh’s departure, but are wary of any attempt by the wily leader to return.
‘In the near term, the biggest challenge is to set up a viable political reform process that has the general backing of the population, and allows Yemen to return to normal after months of unrest,’ the EIU’s Powell said.
‘In the medium term, Yemen’s biggest challenge is economic — already the poorest country in the Middle East, it is running out of oil and water, and unless it can find alternative drivers of growth an economic collapse is entirely feasible,’ he said.
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