Sanaa: Street fighting raged across the Yemeni capital on Tuesday after a tenuous truce broke down between tribal groups and forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, edging the impoverished Arab country closer to civil war.
Global powers have been pressing Saleh to sign a Gulf-led deal to hand over power to try to stem the growing chaos in Yemen, home to al Qaeda militants and neighbor to the world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia. The turmoil has been a factor keeping up oil prices on Tuesday, traders said.
“The ceasefire agreement has ended,” a government official said on Tuesday adding that tribal groups had gained control of a government building.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said her office had received as yet not fully confirmed reports that more than 50 people had been killed by Yemeni government forces since Sunday.
On Tuesday, there were three main flashpoints in the troubled country with street fighting in the capital; government troops gunning down protesters in Taiz and a battle with al Qaeda and Islamic militants in the coastal city of Zinjibar.
Saleh has defied calls from global leaders, elements in his own military and tens of thousands of protesters to end his 33-year-rule which has brought Yemen close to financial ruin.
He has also exasperated his rich Gulf Arab neighbors by three times agreeing to step down and three times pulling out of the deals at the very last minute and clinging on to power.
Battles in the capital overnight brought an end to a truce between Saleh’s forces and tribesmen brokered at the weekend after more than 115 people were killed street battles last week.
In Sanaa, several explosions were heard over the staccato of automatic gun fire in the district of Hasaba.
Mohammed al-Surmi, a doctor at the Science and Technology Hospital in Sanaa, said there were two dead and 17 wounded at the medical facility. More complete casualty figures were not immediately available due to the intensity of the fighting.
“Three different dynamics are playing out at the same time,” said Ginny Hill, who runs the Yemen Forum at the influential Chatham House think tank.
The newest element is the street revolution while the power struggle among the elites and fragmentation of the country have been playing out for some time, she said.
“Saleh’s departure could be seen as the beginning of a contested and potentially lengthy process,” she said.
TROUBLE IN TAIZ
Saleh’s forces fired on hundreds of protesters in Taiz, about 200 km (120 miles) south of the capital, who were trying to gather at the focal point of rallies dubbed “Freedom Square,” witnesses and a Reuters cameraman in the city said.
At least three people have been killed and scores wounded in the latest fighting, medical sources said.
U.N. human rights chief Pillay said more than 50 people may have been killed in Taiz since Sunday when troops used bulldozers and bullets to crackdown on protesters.
“Such reprehensible acts of violence and indiscriminate attacks on unarmed civilians by armed security officers must stop immediately,” Pillay said in an Internet posting.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero condemned the attacks in Taiz. He also said there was no news on three French aid workers who disappeared in southern Yemen on Saturday. Paris believes they were kidnapped.
Further south, government troops and locals have been trying to force al Qaeda and Islamist militants from the coastal city of Zinjibar after they seized the town of 20,000 at the weekend.
Residents said bodies were strewn on the streets, the national bank building was burned and explosions rocked the city. Most of the inhabitants have fled the city.
“Explosions lit the sky,” one resident said.
The United States and Saudi Arabia, both targets of attacks by Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, are worried that chaos is emboldening the group.
Opposition leaders have accused Saleh of deliberately allowing Zinjibar, near a sea lane where about 3 million barrels of oil pass daily, to fall to al Qaeda to try to show how chaotic Yemen would be without him.
At least 320 people have been killed in fighting since protests started in Yemen about four months ago, inspired by the popular uprisings that ended the reign of the long-standing rulers of Tunisia and Egypt. Agencies