Gun battle erupts after Yemen’s Saleh refuses to go

A fierce gun battle broke out on Monday between Yemeni police and tribesmen loyal to an opposition chieftain in Sana’a, witnesses said a day after embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh refused to quit office.

President Saleh on Sunday refused to sign an accord brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that would have seen him cede power within 30 days, in exchange for immunity from prosecution for himself and his aides.

Machine guns were fired and grenades hurled during the clashes, which happened near the home of tribal chief Sadiq al-Ahmar in the Yemeni capital, according to the witnesses.

Several people were wounded in the fighting, a security official said on condition of anonymity, without specifying how many or from which side.

It was not immediately clear what caused the clashes.

Sources close to Ahmar said the fighting erupted in the afternoon after security forces attempted to deploy around the tribal leader’s residence and gunmen loyal to him retaliated.

The security official said however that security forces intervened after Ahmar’s gunmen assaulted a school.

Ahmar, who leads the Hashid tribal federation, the largest in deeply tribal Yemen and a former crucial source of Saleh’s power, in March pledged his support for the opposition.

“I announce in the name of all the members of my tribe that I am joining the revolution,” Ahmar said, calling for Saleh “to exempt Yemen from the bloodshed and make a quiet exit”.

Yemen’s opposition had vowed earlier on Monday to step up street protests, but had expressed determination to avoid violence.

“Our only option is to intensify the peaceful revolt and continue to choke the regime, then finish it,” said Mohammed al-Qahtan, a spokesperson for the Common Forum coalition of parliamentary opposition parties.

“The regime is trying to push the situation toward violence, but it will not push the country into war,” he said.

Saleh had explicitly warned of civil war on Sunday when he refused to sign the transition plan brokered by impoverished Yemen’s wealthy Gulf neighbours.

“If they remain stubborn, we will confront them everywhere with all possible means,” Saleh said.

“If they don’t bow, and want to take the country into a civil war, let them be responsible for it and for the blood that was shed and that will be shed if they insist on their stupidity.”

Youth leader Wassim al-Qershi vowed on Monday that the protest movement would remain peaceful.

“The president thinks that the only solution is to provoke a civil war between rival units of the army,” al-Qershi said. “We want to preserve the peaceful nature of our movement.

Following Saleh’s rejection, the GCC said on Sunday that it was suspending its mediation efforts, while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused him of “turning back on his commitments”.

“The United States is deeply disappointed by President Saleh’s continued refusal to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative,” Clinton said.

“He is turning his back on his commitments and disregarding the legitimate aspirations of the Yemeni people,” she added.

GCC chief Abdullatif al-Zayani flew out of Sana’a after Saleh failed to ink the plan.

In response, GCC ministers announced they had suspended their mediation efforts, although they expressed hope Saleh might still sign up to the deal, which they described as “the best way possible to overcome the current situation”.

Since late January, security forces and armed Saleh supporters have mounted a bloody crackdown on protests demanding his departure, leaving at least 181 people dead, according to a toll compiled from reports by activists and medics.

Under the terms of the GCC plan, Saleh would hand power to the vice president 30 days after it is signed, and he and his aides would be granted immunity from prosecution by parliament.

A national unity government led by a prime minister from the opposition would be formed, and a presidential election would follow 60 days after Saleh’s departure. — AFP

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