Last Updated: Fri Jun 03, 2011 15:25 pm (KSA) 12:25 pm (GMT)

Yemen political situation worsens, as fighting grows fierce and flights are canceled

An injured tribesman loyal to tribal leader Shiekh Sadiq al-Ahmar is treated at a field hospital after clashes with police forces outside al-Ahmar's house in Sanaa. (File Photo)
An injured tribesman loyal to tribal leader Shiekh Sadiq al-Ahmar is treated at a field hospital after clashes with police forces outside al-Ahmar's house in Sanaa. (File Photo)

Thousands of armed tribesmen were headed toward the Yemeni capital of Sana’a on Thursday backing support of their leader Sheikh Sadiq Al Ahmar, whose fighters are locked in deadly battles with the country’s security forces, tribal leaders said. Flights in and out of Yemen were cancelled as anti-regime fighting worsened, with President Ali Abdullah Saleh determined not to quit his office.

Heavy fighting between tribal leader Mr. Al Ahmar's supporters and Yemen’s security forces raged through the night in the Al Hasaba neighborhood in the capital, the sheikh’s stronghold, which killed at least 15 people, Agence-France Presse reported medics as saying.

Among the victims was a seven-year-old girl, who died from wounds sustained after being hit by a stray bullet, said a medical official at the Al Gomhuria hospital in Sana’a.

The tribesmen also clashed with security forces at a military post 15 kilometers (nine miles) north of Yemen’s capital, the sources said.

According to one tribal leader, the armed men “want to enter Sana’a to back their leader” Mr. Al Ahmar, who heads the powerful Hashed tribal federation.

Residents described the overnight clashes in Al Hasaba as the “most violent” of the past two days.

Running street battles on Wednesday killed 47 people, medics said on Thursday, raising a previous toll of 39.

Fighting in the capital broke out on Tuesday after a truce collapsed between security forces and tribesmen who have taken control of public buildings across the capital.

The fighting has cause flights to be suspended at Sana’a airport on Thursday, passengers said.

The battles between the forces had neared the airport, stranding hundreds of passengers. The airport was briefly closed last week due to the deadly street fighting.

The truce was announced May 27, after a week of fierce clashes that erupted when embattled President Saleh warned of a civil war as he refused to sign a Gulf-brokered plan for him to give up office as demanded by pro-democracy protesters. Under that plan, Mr. Saleh and his family were to have received full immunity from prosecution.

Mr. Al Ahmar had in March pledged his support for protesters who are demanding the ouster of Mr. Saleh, who has been in power since 1978.

The Defense Ministry's 26sep.net news Website said tribesmen had on Wednesday occupied a building near the presidential palace, in the south of Sana’a.

It said government forces “regained control of a number of public buildings,” without specifying which ones.

The Website had said on Tuesday that Mr. Al Ahmar’s tribesmen had seized both the headquarters of the ruling General People’s Congress and the main offices of the water utility.

Protesters, armed for the first time since demonstrations began in January, clashed Thursday with security forces in the flashpoint city of Taez, witnesses told Agence-France Presse.

Witnesses said the clashes took place near the presidential palace and near a post held by the Republican Guard, an elite army unit loyal to President Saleh and led by his son Ahmed.

No casualties were reported.

Security forces also fired warning shots to disperse dozens who have gathered in the city, south of Sana’a, calling for Mr. Saleh’s ouster, according to an AFP photographer there.

A crackdown on protesters in Taez since Sunday has left more than 50 people killed, according to the UN human rights office.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday Yemen’s conflict would not end unless Mr. Saleh and his government make way for the opposition to begin a political transition.

“We cannot expect this conflict to end unless President Saleh and his government move out of the way to permit the opposition and civil society to begin a transition to political and economic reform,” the chief US diplomat said.

(Dina Al-Shibeeb, an editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: dina.ibrahim@mbc.net)

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