Nearly 30,000 troops have been deployed amid tight security for the opening of the Arabian Gulf 20 football tournament, which gets under way Monday in Yemen. The two-week event will take place in Zinjibar in the Abyan province, and the southern port city of Aden, a known al-Qaida stronghold.
Yemenis appeared to put aside economic woes, security fears and other worries Monday for a football tournament, which is stirring widespread enthusiasm.
Cars honked their horns, and football fans shouted slogans in the lead-up to the opening match. Large crowds from nearby Arab Gulf states, including Iraq, have been converging on the port city of Aden and nearby Abyan province in recent days for an unexpectedly large turnout, despite recent security fears.
Regional security officials fear that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula could use the games for a terrorist attack, following its recent failures to execute an international terror attack, including the U.S. Christmas Day plane bombing last December and the package-bomb plot uncovered in October.
Al Arabiya TV reported that US security firms were involved in helping to keep the area around the recently completed Abyan football stadium safe and secure.
Surrounded by several visiting heads of state, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh opened the Arabian Gulf games by welcoming guests of honor and thanking everyone for attending.
Young men in traditional dress, chanted as horse riders displayed their skills to captivate the audience. Teenage girls wearing regional costumes also danced in the background.
Yemen Post newspaper editor Hakim Almasmari says that most Yemenis are enthusiastic about the games.
"Yemenis are very happy that the games are being played in Yemen, but they are also very happy that the government was able to make it a success until now, and make everything go very smoothly and securely," said Almasmari. "Right now, most people are in their houses. They're watching TV. Those who are not in the stadium, they are watching on large screen TVs, whether in cafeterias, on the streets or in shops. Everyone, right now, is focused on the Yemen Gulf 20 [tournament], whether they are young or old."
AQAP has not issued a specific threat against the tournament.