Escalating violence in Yemen has brought the country’s political crisis to a head. Prospects for a negotiated transition of power are falling as the regime issued warrants for the arrest of tribal opposition leaders.
Hashid Tribal Federation Leader Sheikh Sadiq al Ahmar called on the international community to force President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power, saying that mediation is not an option. Over 109 people have been killed since May 23 as fighting in the capital, Sana’a, threatens to plunge the country into civil war.
Yemen’s defense ministry reported that an arms depot explosion killed at least 28 people, noting that the weapons belonged to the al Ahmar family. The storage building was near a military post manned by troops loyal to defected General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar. The ministry announced that arrest warrants have been issued for the “rebellious” leaders of the al Ahmar family, who have been accused of treason.
Fighting has been concentrated in north Sana’a, and spread yesterday to the airport. The defense ministry reported that the airport was operating normally, but other sources indicate that it is closed.
The U.S. State Department ordered all non-essential personnel to evacuate the country, citing a high threat level “due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a press conference, “We call on all sides, on all sides, to immediately cease the violence…. We continue to support a united and stable Yemen and we continue to support the departure of president Saleh who has consistently agreed that he would be stepping down from and then consistently reneged on those agreements.”
On May 22, President Saleh refused to sign a transition agreement in the absence of Yemeni opposition leaders, warning that the leaders were dragging the country into a civil war. The deal would have ended months of unrest in Yemen that have already challenged the fragile state. Mass demonstrations, inspired by Egypt and Tunisia, are occurring daily in Yemen’s major cities and these have been met with an increasing use of force. The opposition, united in its demand for the president’s resignation, has not been able to force Saleh out of power, decreasing the likelihood of a relatively peaceful transition.
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