[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): Yemen scrambles for ceasefire as death toll rises

[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): Yemen scrambles for ceasefire as death toll rises

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Wed, 21 Sep 2011 00:11:28 +0200

Yemen scrambles for ceasefire as death toll rises

Tue Sep 20, 2011 8:58pm GMT

By Erika Solomon

SANAA (Reuters) - Bursts of shelling threatened a fragile new truce in
Yemen's capital Sanaa late on Tuesday as politicians scrambled to end the
bloodiest fighting in eight months of anti-government protests.

Both government forces and troops loyal to General Ali Mohsen, who defected
to pro-democracy protesters in March, vowed to stand by a cease-fire ordered
by Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

But witnesses said two mortars hit the end of a street on Tuesday evening
where thousands of protesters were camping out to demand an end to President
Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule.

"The whole place shook with the explosion and clouds of dust shot up in the
air when the second mortar hit," protester Badr Ali said.

The death toll has risen to around 70 since Sunday, when protesters'
frustration boiled over at Saleh's refusal to accept a mediated handover
plan. Saleh has been in Saudi Arabia since June, where he had surgery on
injuries that he suffered in an assassination attempt.

The fighting between state troops and defected soldiers began after tens of
thousands of protesters marched on Sunday close to a part of Sanaa
controlled by government forces.

World powers fear that chaos in Yemen, home to al Qaeda's most powerful
regional branch and adjoining the world's biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia,
could imperil oil shipping lanes and raise the risk of militant strikes on
Western targets.

Despite the violence, opposition and government sources said talks were
continuing over a Gulf-backed transition plan to ease Saleh out of office,
from which Saleh has backed out three times.

U.N. mediator Jamal bin Omar and Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary General
Abdbullatif al-Zayani arrived in Sanaa on Monday to boost efforts to get the
deal signed.

A Western diplomat told Reuters mediators were trying to hang on to the
positive direction the talks had been taking only a few days before the

During two days of chaos, Reuters reporters saw government forces using
heavy fire against street marches and snipers shooting at protesters from


Government officials and opposition groups have traded blame. But there
appeared to be broad agreement that government forces had clashed with those
of the defected General Ali Mohsen, who has pledged to defend protesters,
after his men took control of territory previously under government control.

The opposition said Mohsen's troops took the area to head off security
forces they believed would enter the protest camp.

A source at Mohsen's office said on Tuesday his forces would hold fire at
the vice president's request, but that the protesters might be harder to
control. "I don't think the youth protesters can be reined in until this
regime leaves power."

Some 400 protesters have been killed since protests began in January.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Tuesday it had
reports of shooting at al-Gomhori Hospital, one of Sanaa's main hospitals,
as violence reached "unprecedented" levels in Yemen's capital.

Four defector soldiers were killed in street fighting with pro-Saleh forces
on Tuesday, and two civilians died when three rockets crashed into a protest
camp just after Tuesday morning prayers at around 5 a.m. (3 a.m. British
time), witnesses said.

"We were walking back from prayers. All of a sudden a mortar hit close by
from out of nowhere, and some people fell down. And then a second one came
and that's when we saw the two martyred," Manea al-Matari, a protest
organiser, told Reuters by telephone.

The wounded were carried on blood-streaked stretchers to the field hospital
in the camp, which the protesters have named "Change Square." Doctors said
two had died, and two more protesters were killed by what they believed were
sniper shots.

Mohsen, a top Yemeni general, dealt a major blow to Saleh when he and his
troops defected after an attack on demonstrators by security forces in March
that killed 52 people.

"There are spoilers on both sides who are not looking for a compromise or
maybe aren't getting what they want from a compromise," said April Longley
Alley, senior Arabian Peninsula analyst at the International Crisis Group in
Abu Dhabi. "Maybe they feel they could achieve more by escalating right

Separately, five militants and a soldier were killed in fighting on Tuesday
near Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province, where al Qaeda-linked militants
began seizing territory in March, a local official and residents said.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Kevin

C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved


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