Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was injured when his palace was shelled, Al Arabiya television said, and explosions rocked the capital as government forces fought tribal fighters in Sana’a.
Saleh’s injuries were minor, Al Arabiya said. Mortars hit the house of Hamid al-Ahmar, a lawmaker and brother of opposition tribal leader Sadiq al-Ahmar. Flames and thick plumes of smoke rose over the Hadaa area of southern Sana’a near the presidential palace.
Fighting in Sana’a between Saleh’s security forces and supporters of al-Ahmar, leader of the Hashid, Yemen’s most influential tribe, entered a fifth day after the breakdown of a truce mediated by tribal leaders. Government supporters attacked protesters in the southern city of Taiz.
Hundreds of thousands of opposition members performed the Friday prayers at Sana’a’s Sixty Meter Street, where protesters chanted slogans of solidarity with the residents of Taiz where violence has also intensified. “Freedom for Taiz” and “the people want the trial of mass killers,” they shouted.
Saleh’s government has said rising social unrest threatens to strengthen al-Qaeda, a concern also expressed by the U.S. The group has sought to use Yemen, the poorest Arab nation, as a base from which to destabilize neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of crude oil, and for attempted attacks on international targets including two U.S. synagogues last year.
The two sides have blamed each other for breaking a cease- fire that briefly halted three days of fighting last week.
The elite Republican Guards, led by Saleh’s son, police and armed men in plain clothes fired today on protesters in Taiz, Bushra al-Maktari, a protest organizer, said by telephone. More than 15,000 people marched in the city to condemn a government attack on anti-Saleh demonstrators that began May 29 and lasted until the early hours of May 30, she said. At least 21 people were killed in that crackdown.
There have been no pro-government rallies so far today in Sana’a or Taiz, despite calls for demonstrations to take place.
Scores of people have been killed since the conflict between Saleh’s loyalists and al-Ahmar’s men broke out last week. The violence followed Saleh’s refusal to sign a Western- backed accord brokered by Gulf countries requiring him to give up power within 30 days.
Saleh has asked Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade to help organize a cease-fire, along with France, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other allied countries, Senegal’s Communication Ministry said in a statement today. The two leaders spoke by phone yesterday, it said.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Saleh. “His presence remains a source of great conflict,” she said at the State Department June 1. “We cannot expect this conflict to end unless President Saleh and his government move out of the way.”
President Barack Obama sent John Brennan, his top counterterrorism adviser, this week to meet with government officials in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both members of the Gulf Cooperation Council that sponsored the accord, to discuss options in Yemen.
“He’s obviously working with our allies in the region to see what can be done to persuade President Saleh to follow the agreement he made to sign the accord and to begin the transfer of power immediately,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in Washington.
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