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Updated: June 1, 2011 22:06 IST

Pitched battles in Sana'a

Atul Aneja
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Fighting has flared overnight in the Yemeni capital Sana'a, with members of an influential tribe making a bid to seize important organs of the state including the government-run television station and the Interior Ministry building.

Aware of the intention of tribesmen loyal to the family of Hamid al-Ahmar to take over the well- fortified television station located on a hilltop, government forces launched an artillery barrage from there to keep their challengers at bay.

There was also heavy fighting in the Hasaba area of Sana'a, home to several government buildings. Armed tribesmen seized several ministerial buildings, but there was no confirmation that the Interior Ministry had been successfully stormed. The escalation in combate also appeared to reflect the deepening fissures within the ranks of the military. The Presidential Guard, loyal to its leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, was apparently battling an armoured brigade led by, Brigadier General Mohammed Khalil, suspected of having an intent to join the tribesmen against the President.

While forces loyal to President Saleh may have, for now, warded off a tribal coup attempt, they were facing fresh challenges in the city of Taiz, where peaceful protesters appeared to be re-grouping. On Sunday, security forces, including plain-clothed state militia, had swooped to break-up the assemblage of thousands of protesters at the main city square. Associated Press quoting United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that 50 people were killed in the attack. The United States condemned the crackdown as “unprovoked and unjustified”.

But unfazed by the violence, protesters vowed to enlarge demonstrations, by assembling at five city squares, instead of one.

While the government is battling a front of tribesmen and peaceful protesters who are seeking Mr. Saleh's immediate exit, the challenge from Islamic extremists continues to remain potent. The armed forces have launched air attacks backed by ground incursions to dislodge fighters, supposedly having al-Qaeda links, in the strategic southern city Zinjibar. This city is close to shipping lanes used by tankers ferrying oil to global destinations. On Tuesday, five Yemeni soldiers died in clashes with militants. As panic set in, hundreds of people fled the city.

The growing instability in Yemen is thinning international diplomatic presence in the country. Kuwait on Wednesday decided to withdraw its diplomats from the country, the official news agency KUNA reported. On the previous day, Italy had decided to temporarily shutter its embassy and withdrawn its personnel.

The surge in recent violence can be traced to Mr. Saleh's decision to backtrack, at the last minute, from a deal that was being brokered by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The opposition had already signed on the dotted line, to fulfill an arrangement that would have allowed Mr. Saleh, covered by immunity from prosecution, to step down.

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