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Dozens Killed In Yemen, As Factional Fight Breaks Out In Capital

A father and his daughters sit on a hospital bed after their house was hit as fighting rages in the al-Hasaba neighborhood, north of the capital Sanaa on May 24, 2011.
Gamal Noman
/
AFP/Getty Images
A father and his daughters sit on a hospital bed after their house was hit as fighting rages in the al-Hasaba neighborhood, north of the capital Sanaa on May 24, 2011.

The AP reports that Yemeni officials say 38 people are dead, as protests and violence increased in response to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's refusal to sign an exit deal.

The situation escalated, today, because the capital of Sanna saw an intense firefight between forces loyal to Saleh and guards of Sadiq al-Ahmar, head of the Hashid tribal federation.

The Guardian has this account of the armed confrontation:

Bullets fizzed through the air and plumes of black smoke rose from shattered houses as the two sides fired machine guns and shells at each other in a heavily–populated residential area in the east of the capital. A stray missile thudded into a mosque sending clouds of dust into the air and residents fleeing in panic.

As the fighting raged on into the evening, the opposition tribesmen began to advance, barricading main roads and sealing off several government buildings including the interior ministry. The estimated 500 tribal fighters are thought to be directing their assault from the Yemenia Airways office.

Local residents, most of whom have been evacuated from the area, say the violence was sparked "randomly" when Ahmar's guards tried to enter a primary school, claiming that Saleh's troops had been using it to stockpile weapons.

On Sunday, Saleh was set to sign a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council. The opposition had approved a deal that would have had Saleh turn over power in 30 days to a transitional government in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Foreign Policy reports Saleh "balked on Sunday, demanding that the opposition re-sign in a ceremony at the presidential palace." The GCC has also announced that they are abandoning efforts to broker a deal.

The New York Timesreports that today, the number of tribesman flowing into Sanaa to join the fight has ballooned to 1,000 and this latest round of clashes has become the deadliest since protests started in January. The serious issue, the paper reports, is the clashes "raised the prospect of a broad factional conflict in which both sides are heavily armed."

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Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.