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More deaths in renewed Yemen violence; EU envoy says power-transfer deal is near

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At least 18 people have been killed and over 40 others injured in renewed violence in Yemen’s capital and second largest city, medics and activists said on Wednesday, as the European Union envoy to Yemen said the impoverished county might be a step closer to having power transfer.

Government forces shelled several areas of the city with mortars and tanks, including a protest camp dubbed Freedom Square in the flashpoint city of Taez, Al Arabiya reported. Nine people have been killed and 40 others injured in the shelling, according to an Al Arabiya correspondent.

Residents and gunmen said troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh were targeting Taez neighborhoods with heavy weapons, including mortars.

In Sana’a, intermittent clashes erupted late Tuesday in Hasaba district between government troops and gunmen loyal to influential tribal chief Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, killing at least three people, including two tribesmen and a policeman, said medical officials and the interior ministry, according to AFP.

At least seven others were wounded in the restive district, the scene of fierce clashes and shelling in recent weeks, said the medics.

The violence comes after a brief lull in bloodshed where government troops have been battling a nine-month uprising by pro-democracy activists, dissident soldiers, and tribal gunmen against Saleh.

International and regional mediators have failed to secure a Gulf-sponsored deal between Saleh and his opponents that would ensure a peaceful transition of power to the vice president until early elections for a new president.

The deadlock has left Yemen’s economy in a shambles, its government in chaos and has triggered a wave of unrest that has killed hundreds of lives and injured thousands more since the start of the anti-Saleh protest movement in January.

Months of protests against Saleh’s 33-year rule have weakened already loose central government control over whole swathes of the country.

Saleh returned to Yemen on Sept. 23 after receiving treatment in Saudi Arabia for injuries sustained in a June attack on his compound.

Neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United States fear militants including al-Qaeda’s Arabian Peninsula branch (AQAP) are exploiting growing lawlessness in the impoverished state and firming their foothold there.

A step closer

Meanwhile, the EU envoy to Yemen was quoted by the state news agency SABA as saying Saleh has moved a step closer to handing power to his deputy by accepting a U.N. formula to ease a transition and end an uprising against his rule,

“We are convinced that we are on the verge of reaching an agreement soon and above all else the matter calls for political commitment. We hope that Eid al-Adha will be an occasion to announce to Yemen and the world that Yemen has passed towards a new stage,” Michele Cervone d’Urso told SABA.

D’Urso asked the opposition to return home before the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday next week, so that a deal could be finalized. Opposition leaders are currently in Kuwait to drum up support for their movement.

There was no immediate Yemeni government comment on d’Urso’s remarks. But there have been fresh indications of progress, according to Reuters.

Deputy information minister Abdo al-Janadi said on Sunday the ruling party was close to announcing Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi would succeed Saleh. He also said Hadi would return from the United States on Thursday to wind up dialogue with the opposition, adding, “He will sign the Gulf initiative and the mechanism for its operation in the near future.”

U.N. envoy Jamal Benomar visited Yemen in September to try to devise a way of implementing a Gulf-brokered power handover and overcome political deadlock that has paralyzed the Arabian Peninsula state and pushed it to the verge of civil war.

But he left empty-handed after two weeks of shuttle diplomacy between the opposition and the ruling party.

Benomar’s plan requires Saleh to shift power to Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi ahead of an early presidential election, which would be held within two to three months.

In the meantime, the opposition would form a government with the ruling party and a body would be set up to restructure the armed forces.