Hundreds of Islamic militants cemented control over a town in southern Yemen yesterday, military officials said, while breakaway army units encouraged other military forces to switch their loyalties and join the uprising.
The militants stormed Zinjibar, a town of about 20,000 people near the Gulf of Aden, on Friday, occupying banks and government offices. Military officials said the militants extended their control late Saturday night, capturing six army tanks and several armored cars after the governor, the security chief, and the commander of a local army brigade withdrew. Medical and military officials said eight civilians and 18 soldiers have been killed since Saturday.
The growing number of defections in the military posed the most serious threat yet to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s three-decade grip on his country.
A leader of the breakaway forces, Major General Abdullah Ali Elewa, appealed to other units to join. “Stand side by side with the courageous armed forces, Republican Guards, and security officers who endorsed the peaceful popular youthful revolution,’’ he said. Elewa was one of nine military officers who signed the statement.
Late yesterday, several explosions were heard in the capital Sana. Their origin was not known. Also, witnesses in the southern city of Taiz said security forces attacked protesters camped out in the central square with rifles and water cannon in an attempt to clear the area. Doctors said 150 people were taken to hospitals with injuries. In an earlier clash in Taiz, six protesters were killed.
Throughout the three months of protests against his rule, Saleh has argued that militants would overrun the country if he falls. Critics say he is bluffing.
LibyaRebels in Misurata overcame heavier firepower in punishing street battles that expelled Moammar Khadafy’s forces from the western Libyan city. The rebels now face what could prove a far tougher task: defeating a better-armed military in open terrain.
Opposition forces have expanded the territory under their control, pushing the front lines 15 miles in an arc around the port city and putting Misurata out of range of Khadafy’s heavy weapons. But they have challenges as they shift from street battles to fighting in the olive groves, wheat fields, and desert that surround the city. “Now it’s more difficult,’’ said Salaheldin Badi, a senior rebel commander. “It demands more equipment. Supplies, logistics, and communications are an issue.’’