International pressure is mounting on Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down following a bloody 24 hours that culminated in the deaths of a further five people in Sanaa on Tuesday.
By News Wires (text)
AFP - World anger over bloodshed in Yemen and pressure on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stand down mounted on Tuesday as at least 24 people were killed in as many hours.
Strong statements from the United Nations, European Union, Britain and Italy came as Saleh's foes cautiously welcomed a proposal by Gulf states to mediate in their demands for the veteran president to step down.
Five people were killed on Tuesday in a firefight in Sanaa between troops of an army division that has sided with anti-regime protesters and tribesmen close to Saleh, security sources said.
The deaths came as dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar accused forces loyal to Saleh of trying to kill him in an ambush in which an unspecified number of other people lost their lives.
Members of the presidential guard, who had masqueraded as part of a delegation of tribal envoys visiting the headquarters of Ahmar's rebel division, pulled out weapons and opened fire on the general, his office said.
Tuesday's clashes near the Sanaa University base of youth protesters came a day after 19 demonstrators were gunned down in clashes with security forces in the southern city of Taez and in Hudaydah on the Red Sea.
Security forces in Taez, among them rooftop snipers, shot dead 17 people after protesters demanding Saleh's ouster marched on the governorate headquarters in the city.
That prompted the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to condemn the "disproportionate and excessive" use of force in Taez.
"We are very alarmed by reports of disproportionate and excessive use of force, including machine guns, against peaceful protesters by government security forces," said Navi Pillay's spokesman.
In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was appalled by the bloodshed and condemned the "indiscriminate violence" of security forces.
"In early March, President Saleh promised to maintain maximum restraint in the use of the Yemeni security forces in controlling peaceful demonstrations. We strongly urge him to keep that promise," he said.
And Italy urged Sanaa to "cease all forms of violence" against demonstrators and to open the way for "a constructive dialogue as soon as possible with those who are peacefully calling for a new season of reforms."
On the political front, opposition spokesman Mohammed Qahtan said "we have welcomed (a Gulf Cooperation Council invitation) and said we will attend, but to discuss a transfer of power only."
An official source said Sanaa was also in favour of talks, which would be held in Riyadh at a still undetermined date.
But other figures in the opposition remained cautious.
"We welcome any effort that would lead to (Salleh's) immediate departure, but we haven't received anything to discuss yet," said Mohammed al-Sabri, another top opposition official.
The European Union urged Saleh to begin a political transition "without delay," a day after Washington pressed him to negotiate a peaceful handover, warning that Al-Qaeda stood ready to benefit from a power vacuum.
According to medics and witnesses, about 125 people have now been killed in Yemen's crackdown on protesters, who launched nationwide demonstrations in late January to unseat Saleh, in power for the past three decades.
Washington, which has considered Saleh a key ally in its "war on terror" but expressed fears of Al-Qaeda taking advantage of a prolonged political crisis, is now pressing him to negotiate a transition of power.
"We are obviously concerned that in this period of political unrest that Al-Qaeda and other groups will attempt to take advantage of that power vacuum," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.
The New York Times, quoting US diplomats, intelligence analysts and counter-terrorism officials, said counter-terrorism operations had already ground to a halt in Yemen.
The crisis was allowing "Al-Qaeda’s deadliest branch outside of Pakistan to operate more freely" in Yemen "and to increase plotting for possible attacks against Europe and the United States," it said.
Saleh, in power since 1978, had said he was willing to step down by the end of this year, but his ruling General People's Congress party has defiantly said he should serve out his term until 2013.
Yemen under Saleh has been a vital US partner in cracking down on Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni franchise of the global Islamist network that has been blamed for several thwarted attacks directed at the US mainland.