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Yemen Opposition Accuses President of Handing City to al-Qaida


Armed Yemeni tribesmen stand guard in a street in Sanaa, Yemen, May 29, 2011

Armed Yemeni tribesmen stand guard in a street in Sanaa, Yemen, May 29, 2011

Top Yemeni opposition leaders are accusing embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh of handing the provincial capital of Zinjibar to al-Qaida militants, after fighters from the group seized the town overnight.

Several-hundred fighters loyal to al-Qaida seized the southern coastal Yemen city of Zinjibar, after gunbattles with security forces. Al Arabiya TV reported the militants seized munitions and weaponry from the government, provoking hundreds of residents to flee for the nearby city of Aden. The TV report says at least 18 people were killed in the fighting.

Witnesses say supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh abandoned government buildings to al-Qaida militants, except for an army camp that is now under siege. Witnesses add gunbattles continued there Sunday.

Al-Qaida fighters also reportedly freed dozens of prisoners from Zinjibar’s main jail.

Opponents of Saleh took advantage of the fall of Zinjibar to attack the president. Former Saleh ally General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who sided with anti-government protesters in March, accused the embattled president of handing over several provinces to al Qaida.

He said he strongly condemns the president for allegedly handing over several provinces to armed terrorist gangs, encouraging them to kill, destroy and capture, in a desperate attempt to damage Yemen's military. But, he added, the tactic will not succeed because military officers remain vigilant and will stop such attempts.

Deputy Information Minister Abdou Jundi, a close ally of Saleh, disputed the claims, insisting the government would eventually retake Zinjibar, and defeat al-Qaida.

He said Saleh's forces are fighting a bitter war against al-Qaida, and if the militants win a small victory, it will be turned into defeat. He added that General al-Ahmar's rebellion has divided the army, and both al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood are using it to their advantage.

Former defense minister Ali Allawi repeated calls by the opposition for Saleh to step down, praising top politicians who have deserted the president to call for his resignation.

He said the Yemeni opposition thanks top political figures, including Vice President Abdrabou Hadi Mansour, Abdel Karim al Ariani, Foreign Minister Abou Bakr al Qurbi for their courageous positions in calling for President Saleh to hand over power and avoid sectarian strife. He went on to thank the Gulf states and the U.S. for exerting diplomatic efforts to try to avert civil war and courageously support, what he calls, the people's peaceful revolution.

In the capital Sana'a, a tenuous truce continued for second day, after tribal mediators negotiated a cease-fire between Saleh and top tribal leader Sadiq al Ahmar.

Meanwhile in Syria, news reports say government tanks stormed the restive towns of Rastan and Talbiseh, close to country’s third-largest city of Homs, amid heavy gunfire. Witnesses say a number of civilians were killed in the attacks aimed at stopping two months of demonstrations against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

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