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Heavy fighting rocks Yemen

Flights to Sana’a’s airport were halted on Thursday, an aviation official told Agence France-Presse (AFP), as deadly fighting raged between armed tribesmen and security forces on the streets of the Yemeni capital.

“All flights have been diverted to Aden airport,” said the official who requested anonymity.

The closure came as heavy fighting gripped the al-Hasaba neighbourhood, 10km south of the airport, and amid reports that thousands of armed tribesmen were headed towards Sana’a to back their leader, Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, in his battles with Yemen’s security forces.

Witnesses said heavy fighting raged through the night in al-Hasaba neighbourhood, the sheikh’s stronghold, in which at least 15 people were killed according to medics.

Among the victims was a seven-year-old girl, who died of her wounds after she was hit by a stray bullet, said a medical official at al-Jomhoreya Hospital in Sana’a.

The tribesmen heading for Sana’a clashed with security forces at a military post 15km 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” al-Ahmar, who heads the powerful Hashid 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, updating 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.

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The truce was announced May 27, after a week of fierce clashes that erupted when embattled President Ali Abdullah 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.

Al-Ahmar had in March pledged his support for protesters who have been demonstrating since January for the departure of Saleh, who has been in power since 1978.

Witnesses said thousands of people have fled Sana’a while many shops remained shut and there were long lines at petrol stations.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday Yemen’s conflict will not end unless 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.

And in a potential for a further escalation of violence in the Arabian Peninsula country, previously unarmed protesters have resorted to carrying weapons in the flashpoint city of Taez, where they clashed on Thursday with security forces, witnesses told AFP.

The 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 the embattled Saleh and led by his son Ahmed.

No casualties were reported.

A crackdown on protesters in Taez since Sunday has left more than 50 people dead, according to the United Nations human rights office. — AFP

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