|Page (1) of 1 - 09/24/11||email article||print page|
Top military rival of Yemeni president warns Saleh pushing the country toward civil war
SANAA, Yemen (AP) ' The main military rival of Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh says the returning leader appears set on driving the country into civil war and has called on the international community to rein him in.
Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar has issued a strongly worded statement calling Saleh a "sick, vengeful soul" and comparing him to the Roman emperor Nero, burning down his own city.
Saleh loyalists Saturday launched heavy assaults on his rivals in the capital in fighting that killed at least 40 people. It comes a day after Saleh returned from Saudi Arabia following three months of medical treatment for wounds suffered in an assassination attempt.
Al-Ahmar, who commands the 1st Armored Division, was a Saleh ally until he joined the uprising against his rule.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
SANAA, Yemen (AP) ' Forces loyal to Yemen's newly returned president attacked renegade troops with mortar shells and heavy gunfire Saturday and used rooftop snipers to pick off unarmed protesters fleeing in panic, killing more than 40 people and littering the streets of the capital with bodies.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has clung to power despite nearly eight months of protests and an assassination attempt that forced him to get weeks of emergency medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, returned to Yemen Friday. Street battles that had reignited a week earlier rapidly escalated, signaling a possible full-fledged attempt to crush his rivals and tighten his grip on the country he has ruled for 33 years.
Yemen's turmoil is of deep concern to the United States and much of the West because the country is a haven for Islamic militants, including a branch of al-Qaida that Washington says is the most dangerous remnant of the terror network. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has launched several nearly successful attacks on the U.S., including the failed plot to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner in December 2009 with explosives sewn into the underwear of a would-be suicide bomber.
With the country spiraling deeper into disorder, al-Qaida linked militants have already seized control of entire towns in southern Yemen beyond their traditional strongholds.
Opposition spokesman Mohammed al-Sabri held Saleh directly responsible for the killings.
"It's as if he was unleashed from a cage and came out to retaliate," al-Sabri said. "This man deals with Yemen as if he's a gang leader, not a leader of a nation."
In another sign that Saleh is trying to cement his authority after returning from nearly three months of medical treatment, the autocratic leader is pressuring his vice president to leave the country, and some of the government shelling even targeted an area near his house, government officials said. Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, they said Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was very disappointed with the renewed violence.
During Saleh's absence, Hadi was officially in charge of Yemen's day-to-day affairs and led negotiations for a peaceful resolution to the crisis with key government opponents.
But Saleh used his powerful son Ahmed, who controls the elite Republican Guard forces, to remain in ultimate control behind the scenes.
A U.S.-backed deal mediated by Yemen's Arab neighbors would have required Saleh to transfer his powers to the vice president. Saleh endorsed the deal several times only to balk at signing at the last minute.
Much of Saturday's violence centered on the neighborhoods around the main protest encampment known as Change Square, where thousands have held a sit-in since February to demand that Saleh give up power.
Republican Guard troops and Central Security forces battled soldiers who defected months ago and are trying to protect the protesters in the square.
Government forces pounded the area with mortar shells and fired anti-aircraft guns and rocket-propelled grenades down streets. From above, snipers methodically fired at panicked protesters running for shelter. The shelling wrecked several houses, witnesses said.
At least 28 protesters and one of the soldiers guarding them have been killed there since early Saturday, said Mohammed al-Qabati, a medic who works at a field hospital in the square. Fifty-four people were wounded, he said.
The intensity of the fighting forced ambulance crews to leave many of the bodies in the streets, he said.
"More bodies and injured are pouring into the hospital," al-Qabati said, adding that many of the injured were transported by motorcycle.
In the northwest of the capital, Sanaa, mortar shells rained down on the headquarters of the renegade troops of the 1st Armored Division, led by Saleh's former ally Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who months ago sided with the opposition.
Eleven of al-Ahmar's troops were killed in the shelling and 112 were wounded, according to Abdel-Ghani al-Shimiri, a spokesman for the soldiers.
On a third front, Saleh's troops fought anti-government tribesmen in the capital's Hassaba district. Clashes there over the past two days between government forces and opposition tribesmen killed 18 tribal fighters, according to a statement Saturday from tribal elders.
Hassaba is home to Yemen's most powerful tribal confederation, the Hashid, led by Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, another Saleh foe. The two al-Ahmars are not related.
Eight government troops were also killed and dozens wounded, said Interior Minister Gen. Mouthar al-Masri. He did not specify when or where the casualties occurred.
Violence also shook the southern city of Taiz, home to one of the strongest waves of anti-Saleh protests, and at least one protester was killed there, a medical official said.
Yemen's uprising began in February as the unrest spreading throughout the Arab world set off largely peaceful protests in this deeply unstable corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Saleh's government responded with a heavy crackdown that has killed hundreds.
Saturday's deaths raise to at least 140 the number of people killed in a week of new violence in Yemen.
While Saleh, who has not appeared in public since his return, breathed life into the camp of his supporters, the power-transfer deal backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia is in limbo. The proposal would grant Saleh immunity from prosecution if he hands over power.
Abdu al-Janadi, a government spokesman, told reporters Saturday that the deal could be signed soon after the various parties agree on a mechanism of implementation.
Still, the opposition is deeply distrustful of Saleh, and some factions now say too much blood has been spilled to let Saleh escape justice.