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Fresh fighting threatens cease-fire in Yemen

Yemeni Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, center, heads a meeting with members of the ruling party in Sanaa on Monday. (AP)

Source : Mohammed Ghobari & Jason Benham | Reuters
SANAA | 06 Jun 2011

A cease-fire in Yemen's capital was at risk of unraveling Monday as regime supporters opened fire on opposition fighters in renewed clashes that killed at least six. The violence raises fears over the potentially explosive situation after the wounded President Ali Abdullah Saleh left the country, creating a deep power vacuum.

Saleh seems determined to return and continue to wield power after he underwent surgery Sunday in Saudi Arabia for wounds suffered in a rocket attack on his compound.

"Saleh's health is improving greatly and he will return to the country in the coming days," Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is acting leader in the president's absence, said Monday.

Word that surgery on Saleh for shrapnel wounds was successful sparked celebrations by his supporters on Monday in the provinces of Ibb and Dhamar with song, dance and shooting into the air.

If the president were to return, it would almost certainly re-ignite fighting that has shaken the capital for the past two weeks between government troops and opposition tribesmen determined to oust Saleh.

A Youths' Committee that has been a key player behind the four-month uprising against Saleh's nearly 33 years of iron-fisted rule called for a quick power transfer. The committee urged "all national and political forces to form an interim presidential council ... and create a national transitional council." In a statement, the committee also called for the formation of a "government of technocrats" to lead the transition.

The youth group, organizers of an anti-regime sit-in demonstration at a square in Sanaa since February, encouraged Yemenis to celebrate what they hailed as "the ouster of Saleh."

"The revolution has achieved its first objective — the ouster of Saleh," it said, adding the protesters would "continue (their) sit-in until the achievement of all goals."

The United States called on Yemen to move toward democracy. "We are calling for a peaceful and orderly transition," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters. "We feel that an immediate transition is in the best interests of the Yemeni people."

"(Saleh) is in Saudi Arabia receiving medical treatment. There is a civilian government that remains in place in Yemen. We believe that the time is now to begin that peaceful transition toward a democratic process," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a news briefing in Washington.

In Sanaa, a truce brokered by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah held, but was threatened by fresh violence.

Gunmen — apparently pro-Saleh forces — attacked tribal fighters loyal to Sadeq Al-Ahmar, killing three tribesmen on Monday, Al-Ahmar's office said. The shooting took place in the Sanaa district of Hasaba, where Al-Ahmar's residence is located and which has been the epicenter of the past two weeks of fighting.

Hasaba remained tense, with government forces dug in despite promises under the cease-fire that they would pull back from their positions.

There was also fresh fighting in the flashpoint southern city of Taiz, where the United Nations said it was investigating reports that as many as 50 have been killed in the past week.

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.

Diplomats and analysts feel Saleh’s stay in Riyadh might be prolonged as Saudi officials try to broker a power transition deal to prevent the implosion of its neighbor.

“I don’t think the Saudis or his people want him back. He doesn’t have regional support,” said a diplomat in the region.

International pressure has mounted on all parties to find a way to end clashes bringing Yemen to the brink of civil war due to worries it could become a failed state home to an Al-Qaeda wing.

In a joint statement, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and the Prime Ministers of Britain, Spain and Italy, thanked Saudi Arabia for receiving Saleh for treatment, and called on all parties in Yemen to “find a means of reconciliation on the basis of the GCC initiative.”


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