Fresh clashes, explosions rock Yemeni capital

September 29, 2011 - 1:05 PM
Mideast Yemen

Yemeni protesters chant slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa, Yemen Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. Yemeni military officials say armed tribesmen have shot down a government warplane that was bombing their positions north of the capital, Sanaa. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Heavy gunfire and explosions rocked the Yemeni capital on Thursday as clashes between government troops and rival tribesmen erupted anew Thursday, leaving at least three people dead.

The fighting started early in the morning in Sanaa's Hassaba neighborhood, spilling over into nearby streets in the capital. Hassaba is a stronghold of Yemen's most powerful tribal confederation, the Hashid, led by Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar who has sided with the opposition calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Yemen has been rocked by seven months of near daily mass protests demanding the overthrow of Saleh's regime, plunging the impoverished nation into deep political crisis. Armed tribesmen and defecting military units who support the protesters have joined the fray in a dangerous escalation that has raised prospects of a civil war.

The office of the tribal chief al-Ahmar said two of his brother's personal guards, were killed and five others were wounded in Thursday's clashes. Those killed were the guards for Himyar al-Ahmar, deputy speaker of parliament.

One artillery shell struck a house in Sanaa's Soufan neighborhood close to Yemen's state television building, wounding two people, said Mohammed Younis, a resident of the area.

Younis said he heard ambulance sirens but the narrow alleys and government checkpoints in the area prevented the ambulances from reaching the wounded. Columns of smoke and fire were billowing from the area, Younis said.

In Hassaba, fighting was continuing between elite Republican Guard troops led by Saleh's son Ahmed and the soldiers of al-Ahmar, the tribal chief.

Several streets around Hassaba, Soufan and other areas in Sanaa were empty because of the violence, and almost all shops and government offices were closed. Checkpoints from rival sides prevented people from entering some areas.

The officials said fighting around the Hassaba area has calmed down due to mediation by the U.S. and European ambassadors with both sides.

Despite the violence, protesters found alternate streets around Sanaa to hold their daily march on Thursday, calling for Saleh to go. Scores of women and children were seen among the protesters. "We need safety ... but Saleh is pitiless," shouted the crowd.

There were similar demonstrations Thursday in other Yemeni cities and towns, including Damar, Ibb, Saada and Bayda.

In the southern city of Taiz, one person was killed and five others wounded after Republic Guards forces randomly shelled three areas in the city.

Activist Ahmed Ghilan said the shelling destroyed four houses, two of them belonging to former members of parliament. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets protesting the shelling and calling for Saleh's ouster.

Also Thursday, military officials said 18 al-Qaida linked militants were killed in the past 24 hours fighting and bombing of their hideouts in Hassann valley, northeast of Zinjibar, the capital of southern Abyan province.

Militants seized large swaths of Abyan several months ago and are implementing strict Islamic sharia law in the areas under their control. On Wednesday, security officials and witnesses said one of their firing squads executed Fathi Baduman in northern Zinjibar after convicting him of killing a Yemeni man, Ramzi al-Uqub.

The officials and witnesses Mahmoud Abdullah and Mahmoud Faraj said the militants cut off the hands of two people accused of robbery in the nearby town of Jaar, which is also under the militant control.