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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

41 people killed in Sana’a fighting as reports predict Saleh likely out of power in 2011

Forty-one people were killed in overnight heavy fighting in Sana’a between opposition tribesmen and security forces, Al Arabiya correspondent said on Wednesday as a European think-tank predicted that the Yemeni President is unlikely to stay in power through 2011.

Clashes between tribesmen loyal to Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, who heads the powerful Hashid confederation, and security forces broke out in Sana’a on Tuesday shattering a truce announced on Friday.

The government of veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh accused Mr. Ahmar’s fighters of breaking the truce.

The defense ministry’s news website said that his tribesmen had seized both the headquarters of the ruling General People’s Congress and the main offices of the water utility.
But sources close to Mr. Ahmar said President Saleh’s forces were to blame as they had opened firing on the tribal leader’s compound in the north of the capital, according to Agence-France Presse.

According to Al Arabiya correspondent, Kuwait has withdraws its diplomatic mission from Yemen over security threats.

Mr. Ahmar announced on Friday that “there is a truce between us and Ali Abdullah Saleh” for mediation to take place, speaking at a funeral for 30 of his fighters killed in four days of clashes with the president’s forces in the capital last week.

But he said: “If the Saleh regime wants a peaceful revolution, we are ready for that. If he chooses war, we will fight him.”

In March, Mr. Ahmar pledged his support for protesters who have been demonstrating since January for the departure of the 65-year-old president, who has been in power since 1978.

Unlikely to stay in power

A motorcyclist rides through a roadblock set up by protesters on a street in Taez. (File photo)
A motorcyclist rides through a roadblock set up by protesters on a street in Taez. (File photo)
A report said on Wednesday said that President Saleh is unlikely to stay in power through 2011 but violence in the 24-million-people poor nation will increase while he clings on, according to Reuters.

Global powers have been pressing Mr. Saleh to sign a Gulf-mediated deal to step down and stem spreading chaos in civil-war-threatened Yemen, a haven for Al Qaeda militants and neighbor to the world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia.

“Mr. Saleh is unlikely to survive 2011 as president of Yemen; however the likelihood of a managed transition is decreasing, and an attempt to forcibly oust him from power is becoming more likely,” the Eurasia Group said in a report.

This week, there have been three main flashpoints in the country—fighting in the capital, government troops gunning down protesters in Taez in the south and a battle with Al Qaeda and Islamic militants in the coastal city of Zinjibar.

The political risk think-tank said the most likely outcome for the crisis is for Mr. Saleh leaving power through a political deal he brokers from a position of weakness, or being ousted by force by breakaway military groups and tribal leaders.

The report cautioned: “Saleh leaving power early does not result in a functional Yemeni state that can reassert control over the country in the short term.”

Mr. Saleh, a wily politician who has ruled the impoverished country for nearly 33 years, has faced months of street protests calling for his ouster while his forces have battled powerful tribal groups who have aligned themselves with the protesters.

Members of his military and government started to abandon him in March after his troops killed dozens of protesters.

The breakaway military groups have called on others in the army to join them in opposition to the government but have not engaged in any major fighting with forces loyal to Mr. Saleh.

President Saleh has also exasperated his rich Gulf Arab neighbors by three times agreeing to step down, only to pull out of a power transition plan at the last minute.

Analysts are worried that the instability in Yemen could embolden Al Qaeda wing in the country, which has targeted the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations called for a cease-fire between Saleh’s forces and a powerful tribal group, after street fighting between the two last week killed at least 115 people, according to Reuters.

“The Secretary-General is gravely concerned about the reports of excessive use of force by Yemeni security forces against unarmed demonstrators in Taez and the escalating fighting in Sana and other cities leaving scores of civilians dead, wounded and displaced,” he said in a statement.

(Abeer Tayel, a senior editor at Al Arabiya English

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