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Talks between Yemeni opposition and VP stall

Armed guards, seen through a shattered window, walk near damaged cars at the house of Yemeni tribal leader Sadiq al-Ahmar in San

Mohammed Ghobari | Reuters
SANAA | 13 Jun 2011

Talks between Yemen’s vice president and the opposition stalled on Monday after the country’s acting leader ignored the opposition’s demand that President Ali Abdullah Saleh quit immediately.

Saleh, forced to seek medical treatment in Saudi Arabia for wounds suffered in an attack on his palace earlier this month, has refused to leave office despite nearly six months of street protests and several diplomatic attempts to remove him.

Fresh clashes broke out in the southern province of Taiz on Monday after the army advanced on militants who attacked them and destroyed several armored vehicles, a local official said.

In Zinjibar — the provincial capital that fell to Islamists — a security source said Yemen’s army killed two Al-Qaeda militants and injured several others on Monday, while one soldier was killed and a further seven injured.

Political paralysis and long-standing conflicts with Islamist insurgents, separatists and rebel tribesmen have fanned Western and regional fears of Yemen collapsing into chaos and giving Al-Qaeda a stronghold alongside oil shipping routes.

A member of a group of opposition parties calling on Saleh to step down said the country’s vice president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi declined to discuss the president’s fate.

“Security, food and electricity issues were discussed,” said Sultan al Atwani, referring to the shortages that have all but paralyzed the capital in the aftermath of fierce battles between Saleh’s forces and a general who turned on him.

The political side was not discussed, because the other side said it still needed time and was preoccupied with those matters, as well as the cease-fire,” he said.

Sanaa cease-fire holds

The third collapse last month of a Gulf-brokered deal to nudge Saleh from power ushered in two weeks of fighting between his forces and those of General Ali Al-Mohsen Al-Ahmar that engulfed the capital, claimed at least 200 people and forced thousands more to flee.

The office of tribal leader Sheikh Sadeq Al-Ahmar put the death toll at 100 and the number of wounded at 325 between May 23 and June 4.

A cease-fire has held in Sanaa since Saleh left following the June 3 attack on his palace. But shortages of fuel, electricity and water are acute, and violence in a southern province — whose capital Islamist gunmen seized last month — has worsened.

Saleh’s opponents have accused him of handing over Zinjibar to Islamists to foment unrest and reinforce his threat that the end of his three-decade rule, as demanded by protesters, would amount to ceding the region to Al-Qaeda.

Yemen’s government, itself paralyzed in the broader political standoff, is struggling to provide medicine and other essentials to people who have fled Zinjibar.

At least 10,000 have taken refuge in Aden, many of them sleeping in schools. The UN children’s agency UNICEF warned last week that the number of displaced may hit 40,000.

Opposition parties have said they will form their own transitional assembly within a week if Saleh does not cede power. It is not clear whether those parties have any significant influence over many of the protesters.

Saleh has not been seen in public since the palace attack, which left him with burns and shrapnel wounds. Yemen’s ambassador in London said on Saturday that he was recovering and in stable condition.

Saudi medical sources and Yemeni officials said Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Megawar and another cabinet member injured in the palace attack had undergone further surgery and described their condition as “serious.”

Airstrikes kill 3 militants

In southern Yemen, airstrikes targeting a town controlled by militants killed three extremists on Monday, military and medical officials said.

The Yemeni officials said the airstrikes struck Jaar, one of two militant-held towns in the province of Abyan. The other town is Abyan’s capital, Zinjibar.

Four months of massive anti-government protests across Yemen have weakened the central government, and the capture of the two southern towns by militants thought to include Al-Qaeda members has raised concern that the organization could take advantage of the chaos.

In Taiz, Yemen’s second-largest city, military officials said gunmen destroyed two tanks and six vehicles belonging to the presidential guard, an elite force loyal to Saleh and led by his son and one-time heir apparent Ahmed. The tanks and vehicles were destroyed during fighting in the early hours of Monday.

The officials in Abyan and Taiz spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.


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