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Tribal chief tells Saleh to go, as overnight blast leaves 28 dead

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Yemen’s opposition tribal chief Sadeq al-Ahmar blamed the country’s violence on President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces, saying they should stop the fight first, Al Arabiya TV reported on Thursday.

Sheikh al-Ahmar said that he is open to negotiating on the Gulf Cooperation Council plan-brokered deal again but only on the condition that Mr. Saleh’s forces halt the fighting.

A defiant Mr. Al-Ahmar disparaged both reports that his home in Sanaa was destroyed or the arrest warrants against him issued by the embattled president.

He said that he was conducting the phone interview with Al Arabiya TV from his home and that no one can arrest him.

The Yemeni president has ordered the arrest of the dissident tribal chief and his nine brothers, the defense ministry said on Thursday as deadly clashes raged between rebels and security forces.

"The president has ordered the arrest of Mr. Ahmar’s sons to bring them to justice for armed rebellion," Agence-France Presse reported the ministry's 26sep.net news website as saying in a text message.

The tribal chieftain said that for peace to prevail in the embattled country, Mr. Saleh must go and “should leave the country barefoot” reported Al Arabiya.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday urged all sides in Yemen's deadly civil unrest "immediately to cease the violence."

"We are very troubled by the ongoing clashes" between security forces of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh and armed supporters of a powerful tribal leader, Clinton said in Paris.

"We call on all sides immediately to cease the violence."

Overnight clashes in the Yemeni capital Sanaa between security forces and opponents of President Saleh killed 24 people, the official Saba news agency and tribal sources said on Thursday.
"Four civilians from two families including one woman were killed in shelling that targeted their home" Saba said. "Two others were killed in clashes with security forces."

Tribal sources said that 12 soldiers from the elite Republican Guard and six civilians and tribesmen were killed in other clashes late on Wednesday.

According to Yemen's defense ministry on Thursday at least 28 people were killed in an explosion at an arms storage area in Sanaa during overnight fighting, Reuters reported.

A government official said separately that the headquarters of an opposition TV station had been "destroyed" without providing further details.

Residents were fleeing Sanaa by the hundreds, hurriedly fastening possessions to the roofs of cars, hoping to escape the violence that has killed more than 40 people since Monday and threatened to spread into other areas of the capital Sanaa.

The most recent clashes have been concentrated in a part of northern Sanaa where fighters loyal to Mr. Ahmar have been trying to take over government buildings including the Interior Ministry.

Witnesses told Reuters that Mr. Ahmar's mansion was severely damaged, and explosions around midnight on Wednesday could be heard in wide parts of the city.

"This seems to be heavier weapons than the machineguns and the mortars of the past few days," one resident said.
The United States and Saudi Arabia, both targets of foiled attacks by a wing of Al Qaeda based in Yemen, have tried to defuse the crisis and avert any spread of anarchy that could give the global militant network more room to operate.

There are worries that Yemen, already teetering on the brink of financial ruin, could descend into a failed state that poses a major risk for regional security and its neighbor Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter.

The US annually gives Yemen some $300 million in aid.

President Barack Obama earlier on Wednesday repeated his call for Mr. Saleh to step aside as pitched battles were fought between tribal groups and security forces in Sanaa.

Tribesmen loyal to a powerful opposition chief have seized public buildings in Sanaa including state news agency Saba, sources said Wednesday, amid raging gun battles with security forces that have killed 44 people.

The tribesmen have also occupied the national airline Yemenia building and have tried to storm the interior ministry headquarters, according to the witnesses and a high-ranking Yemen official.

The latest fighting came despite an appeal late Tuesday by Mr. Saleh for supporters of Mr. Ahmar, who heads the powerful Hashid tribal federation, to “cease their aggression on security forces.”

(Dina Al Shibeeb, an editor of Al Arabiya, can be reached at: dina.ibrahim@mbc.net)