As civil war looms in Yemen, leaders call for Saleh to go

At least 69 people killed in latest day of fighting; Israeli expert: Regime’s fall would undermine regional stability, provide al-Qaida haven.

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
May 26, 2011 20:25
2 minute read.
Anti-regime protesters in Sanaa, Yemen

Yemen Anger 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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At least 69 Yemenis were killed in pitched street battles in the capital on Thursday as fighting aimed at ending President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s three-decade rule threatened to ignite civil war.

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 110 people since Monday.

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Uzi Rabi – director of Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies and author of the forthcoming book Yemen: The Anatomy of a Failed State – said a state of internecine war has essentially already begun.

“Civil war has already started. It’s Ali Abdullah Saleh and his tribal militias against his rival al- Ahmar’s tribal militias,” he said.

Sadiq al-Ahmar and his tribe lead the powerful Hashed tribal confederation, which is well-represented among the country’s political opposition.

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“You also have al-Qaida operatives, as well as Houthis, who are Shi’ites trying to rebel against Sanaa. Unlike other Arab states, it isn’t the youth who are initiating things in Yemen,” he said.

“Yemen has a different rhythm, even if some would like to compare it to the revolutions sweeping the Middle East now.”

Rabi said that given its factious ethnic and religious makeup, Yemen, after Saleh’s ouster, would be an ideal breeding ground for terrorist groups like al-Qaida.

“More often than not, dictators are able to hold very complex states in a relative state of stability. It’s no doubt that if Bashar [Assad of Syria], Saleh and [Libya’s] Muammar Gaddafi fall, what we will likely see is a collection of mini-states, and that means instability – something that isn’t healthy for the Middle East, at least in the short term,” he said.

The latest round of fighting was the bloodiest Yemen has seen since protests began in January.

The AP reported 20 government troops and 46 tribesmen loyal to Ahmar were killed Thursday alone.

The US ordered all non-essential diplomats and embassy family members to leave the country.

“The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high due to terrorist activities and civil unrest,” the State Department said.

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