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Yemen fighting revives civil war fears

Women shouted slogans as they participated in a protest outside Yemen’s foreign ministry in Sana. Women shouted slogans as they participated in a protest outside Yemen’s foreign ministry in Sana. (Mohamed Al-Sayaghi/Reuters)
By Hamza Hendawi
Associated Press / October 18, 2011

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SANA, Yemen - Fighting between troops loyal to Yemen’s embattled leader and rival forces yesterday killed at least 18 people, including eight supporters of an influential tribal chief who defected to the opposition in March.

The predawn fighting, the worst in the capital Sana in weeks, has revived fears of civil war in the strategically located nation on the southern corner of the Arabian Peninsula.

Mortars, rockets, and heavy machine-guns were used in the hourslong battle in the northern sector of the city close to the international airport.

A series of blasts shook the city for hours, forcing residents in many parts to take shelter in basements. The fighting continued throughout the night, briefly stopped for the dawn prayers and then resumed. It ceased by sunrise.

Many of the city’s stores were closed in anticipation of renewed fighting, but the day passed without any major violence. However, traffic was lighter than usual and residents hurried home before sunset.

The fighting has deepened fears that Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation, is headed for civil war, a grim prospect for the nation’s conflict-fatigued 23 million people.

Firearms have traditionally been readily available in Yemen, where owning a rifle is a rite of passage for most young males.

Many Yemenis also have military experience from serving in the army and fighting in the nation’s many domestic wars.

With central authority ranging from weak to nonexistent outside Sana, it is not uncommon for tribesmen to have heavy machine-guns, antiaircraft guns, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades.

Saleh is accused by many Yemenis of pushing the country into civil war by tenaciously clinging to power in the face of eight months of massive protests across the country, the defection to the opposition of key tribal and military allies, and mounting international pressure on him to step down.

He has so far balked at a US-backed plan proposed by Saudi Arabia and its five smaller allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council to hand over power to his deputy and step down in exchange for immunity.

Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the renegade division, warned of the danger of civil war yesterday in a statement in which he called on the international community to force Saleh out of office.

“The madness of this man, his obsession with power, his thirst for revenge, and his irresponsible behavior show that he wants to ignite a ruinous civil war that will add to the instability of the region,’’ said Ahmar, a one-time Saleh ally.

Egypt

The two sons of ousted President Hosni Mubarak have an estimated $340 million in Swiss bank accounts, a senior Egyptian Justice Ministry official said yesterday.

The fortune was amassed by Mubarak’s youngest son and one-time heir apparent Gamal and his brother, Alaa. Gamal rose rapidly through the ranks of his father’s ruling National Democratic Party over the past decade to become the country’s most powerful politician.

Assem al-Gohary said Swiss authorities are investigating whether Alaa Mubarak was involved in money laundering along with other former regime figures. Mubarak and his sons have been charged in Egypt with corruption and all three are under arrest. The former president is also charged with complicity in the killing of about 850 protesters in the Jan. 25-Feb. 11 Egyptian uprising.

During the uprising, rumors circulated that Mubarak and his sons amassed billions of dollars in corrupt practices, helping drive the anger that brought him down.

Switzerland has already frozen the assets of the Mubarak family and other former Egyptian regime figures, which Gohary estimated at nearly $450 million. Egypt’s attorney general froze the assets of the former presidential family on Feb. 20.

Jordan

Jordan’s King Abdullah II designated a well-known international judge as his prime minister yesterday, a royal palace statement said, replacing a premier who ran afoul of reformers.

The king instructed the new premier to swiftly open dialogue with opposition figures who have grown disgruntled with the pace of reform.

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