Civil war looms in Yemen; 40 killed in street battles

Residents flee capital by hundreds amidst fighting between regime forces and members of country's most powerful tribe. G8 calls on Saleh to quit.

Yemen Anger 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Yemen Anger 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
SANAA - More than 40 Yemenis were killed in pitched street battles in the capital on Thursday as fighting aimed at ending President Ali Abdullah Saleh's three-decade-long 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 80 people since Monday.
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The fighting, pitting the security forces of President Ali Abdullah Saleh against members of the country's most powerful Hashed tribe led by Sadiq al-Ahmar, was the bloodiest Yemen has seen since protests began in January. The battles threatened to spread into other parts of the capital Sanaa.
The defense ministry said 28 people were killed in an explosion in an arms storage area of Sanaa at dawn on Thursday.
Fighters in civilian clothes roamed some districts on Thursday and machinegun fire rang out sporadically.
Sporadic explosions could be heard in the capital near the protest site where thousands of people demanding Saleh to leave after nearly 33 years in power are still camped.
Black smoke from mortar fire mixed with a haze of pollution and dust that hangs over Sanaa like a shroud.
At a meeting in Deauville, France, leaders of the Group of Eight powers called on Saleh to quit, keen to avert civil war inflaming one part of the Arab world as they prepared to help new democracies flourish in another.
"We deplore the fighting that occurred overnight which was a direct result of the current political impasse, for which President Saleh has direct responsibility due to his refusal to sign the GCC transition agreement," a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council. For the United States, who long treated Saleh as an ally against al Qaeda, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Paris: "We continue to support the departure of President Saleh who has consistently agreed that he would be stepping down from power and then consistently reneged on those agreements."
Washington ordered all non-essential diplomats and embassy family members to leave Yemen. "The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high due to terrorist activities and civil unrest," the U.S. State Department said.
Yemen's state prosecutor ordered the arrest of "rebellious" leaders of the tribal group led by the al-Ahmar family and a government official said the headquarters of an opposition television station had been "destroyed", without giving details.
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