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Yemeni general killed, 30 troops taken hostage; Saleh’s calls for talks rejected

A general was killed and 30 other troops loyal to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh were taken hostage when tribesmen overnight attacked their base north of Sana’a, tribal sources and officials said on Monday as opposition rejected Saleh’s calls for negotiations and power transition.

General Abdullah al-Kulaibi, head of the 63rd brigade of the elite Republican Guard unit, was killed in the attack by tribesman opposed to Saleh’s rule in the strategic town of Nihm, the defense ministry said in a statement.

Four of the attackers were killed during the attack on the military base, about 60 kilometers (42 miles) from the Yemeni capital, it said, according to AFP.

Yemen state television confirmed the assault on the military base but made no mention of hostages. It also claimed the attackers were gunmen from the Yemeni Islamist Islah (Reform) party.

A tribal source, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said that gunmen from tribes who are opposed to Saleh took brief control of parts of the base, kidnapped 30 Yemeni soldiers, and then escaped into nearby hills.

He added that two of the four tribesmen killed overnight died during what he described as the “constant shelling” of Nihm by the military in retaliation for the assault.

Nihm is one of several villages that collectively make up the strategic northern gateway into Sana’a and is site of at least five Republican Guard bases.

The elite unit has so far prevented dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who now controls part of the capital, from calling in reinforcements from Yemen’s northern provinces where he has a strong following.

The tribesmen who carried out the assault on the military base late Sunday are allied with General Ahmar and have been battling government troops for control of the area.

Meanwhile, Saleh may face nationwide more protests as his return to the country after more than three months abroad and calls for negotiations were rejected by the opposition.

Saleh called late Sunday for parliamentary and presidential elections on the basis of an accord proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council. The regional GCC bloc includes the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.

Opposition leaders called on followers to mark Monday as a national holiday commemorating a 1962 uprising that ended the monarchy with demonstrations against Saleh, who has ruled the Arab world’s poorest country for more than three decades. Protesters took to the streets following a night of heavy shelling, calling for a new revolution to take place.

“Our protests will escalate and we are confident we will win,” said Tawakul Karaman, the head of Women Journalists Without Chains, a Sana’a-based human rights organization. “We will arrest him and bring him to court.”

Violence in Yemen threatens to mirror the situation across the Gulf of Aden in Somalia, which has been mired in a civil war for two decades and hasn’t had a functioning central government since 1991. At least 150 people have been killed in two weeks of fighting.

Saleh returned to Yemen on Sept. 24 from Saudi Arabia, where he was receiving treatment.

“We have talked repeatedly about the peaceful transfer of power through the ballot boxes,” Saleh said in a televised address on the eve of Yemen’s Revolution Day. “We are committed to the Gulf initiative and to implementing it.”

Saleh said he supported the legitimate demands of political parties and Yemeni youth, adding that some groups are committing crimes to seize power and wealth.

Protests have persisted since the government and the main opposition group, the Joint Meetings Parties, failed three times to sign the plan. Under the terms of the proposal, Saleh would cede power within a month of signing the deal and be granted immunity from prosecution. A transition would follow within 60 days.