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UN: Yemen turmoil forcing thousands of families to flee homes; army bombs al-Qaida strongholds
SANAA, Yemen (AP) ' Thousands of Yemeni families have fled their homes because of tribal clashes in the north and battles between the military and al-Qaida militants in the south, a U.N. agency said Friday.
Violence continues to rage across Yemen after more than a year of protests led to the ouster of longtime Yemeni ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh. Al-Qaida has taken advantage of the chaos and seized several towns in the south that Yemeni forces have struggled to retake while a long-standing conflict involving rebels in the north has only gotten worse.
Yemen's military launched airstrikes Friday targeting al-Qaida positions in the central city of Bayda located some 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of the capital Sanaa, according to military officials. Thick white smoke billowed over the city but there were no immediate reports of casualties.
Al-Qaida has had a foothold in southern Yemen since last spring and has tried to push north into the central province of Bayda. From there, the group could extend its reach into the capital. In January, al-Qaida militants stormed a local prison and freed at least 150 inmates in the town of Radda in central Yemen.
The ongoing battles, especially in the south, has left a half million Yemenis displaced, according to a new report by the U.N.'s High Commissioner on Refugees.
The agency said Friday that in the past two weeks alone, 1,800 people fled their homes in the south. Over the past year, 150,000 people were forced out of their homes in the south.
The UN refugee agency said that north of the capital, tribal clashes have displaced some 52,000 people over the past three months. Altogether, roughly 314,000 Yemenis have been displaced in the north because of a long-running conflict involving Shiite Houthi rebels, the refugee agency said.
Meanwhile, thousands of protesters took to the streets Friday demanding that newly inaugurated Yemeni president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi prosecute commanders in the army who they say collaborated with al-Qaida in a brazen attack on Yemeni forces last week which killed nearly 200 troops.
The protests have been going on since Monday.