Yemen’s political opposition and the party of outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh have agreed to the lineup of an interim government to lead the country to an early election next year, an opposition official said on Thursday 13 people were killed in clashes in the city of Taez.
Under the agreement, Saleh’s party will keep the defense, foreign and oil ministries, while opposition parties will take charge of the ministries of the interior, international cooperation, information and finance, the official who did not want to be named told Reuters.
Clashes on Thursday between forces loyal to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and dissident tribesmen in the country’s second-largest city Taez killed 13 people, five of them civilians, medical and security officials said.
Witnesses said the fighting erupted before dawn as loyalist troops tried to storm the city center, a stronghold of armed tribesmen who have pledged support to the protest movement against Saleh’s 33-year rule.
Security officials said five Yemeni soldiers were killed in battles and medics from the city’s al-Rawda neighborhood told AFP eight people, including five civilians, were killed and 30 wounded.
Troop of the loyalist 33rd Brigade fired artillery rounds at several neighborhoods of Taez, a stronghold of the anti-government protests raging since January, but met stiff resistance, residents said.
The heavily armed tribesmen destroyed one army tank stationed near the city's traffic police headquarters, the witnesses added.
All roads leading into the city were blocked by the fierce fighting that has left outlying districts isolated from the city centre.
The Yemeni government accuses what it says are “militias from al-Islah,” an Islamist movement that is the main opposition party in parliament, of being behind the unrest and deploying in residential areas across Taez.
Qaeda, secessionists in Aden
In the southern province of Aden, a security official said gunmen opened fire on a security officer of the special forces while driving in the Khor Maksar town, killing two of his guards. The officer escaped unharmed.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with security rules, said the attackers were believed to be al-Qaeda-linked militants. Yemen has one of the world’s most active Qaeda branches.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis demonstrated in Aden Wednesday on the 44th anniversary of independence of South Yemen from Britain and called for secession. South and North Yemen merged under Saleh in 1990.
Also, thousands demonstrated in the southern town of Ibb, activist Ahmed Aqil said.
The demonstrators called for Saleh to be put on trial for alleged corruption and killing of protesters during the nine-month uprising.
Saleh signed a U.S.-backed power transfer deal, brokered by neighboring countries, last week in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. It transfers power to his vice president and grants Saleh immunity from prosecution.
Sunnis versus Shiites
Meanwhile, thousands of Sunni Islamists rallied Wednesday in the Yemeni capital protesting against the alleged siege of a religious school by Shiite rebels in the north.
The Huthi rebels attacked the Salafist Dar al-Hadith institute in the rebel stronghold of Saada, Sunni extremists said, adding that hundreds of students, including Westerners, and their families are caught inside.
A tribal source said Sunday that 20 were killed and 70 others wounded in attacks on the institute in the village of Dammaj.
According to Mohammad al-Ammari, the spokesman of the rally, at least seven thousand people, including women and children, are under siege in Dammaj.
"They are facing daily bombings by the Huthis and lack food and medicines," Ammari said.
He said at least 26 people were killed since the beginning of the blockade including at least two Americans, a French citizen, a Russian and a number of Indonesians and Malaysians.
He accused the Shiite rebels of wanting to build a Shiite state in northern Yemen.
The head of the institute, sheikh Yehya al-Hajuri, who remains in Dammaj, urged his followers in a written statement distributed at the rally to launch "jihad (holy war) against the Huthi Rafida (rejectionists)," using a term coined by Saudi Salafists to describe Shiites.
Huthi rebels consider the Salafist institute a preaching centre.
Asked by AFP, rebels’ representative in Sanaa, Khaled al-Madani, insisted that the gunmen were "stopping the supply of arms" but not laying siege to the institute.
He accused the institute of "hosting armed men who fire at our brothers", stressing that "Dar al-Hadith is at the forefront of calls for sectarian sedition."
Huthi rebels are Zaidi Shiites who complain of marginalization by the Sanaa government. Thousands have been killed since a rebellion began in 2004. A cease-fire was reached in February last year.
The rebels are said to be close to Iran.