More than 40 Yemenis were killed in pitched street battles in the capital yesterday as fighting aimed at ending Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s three-decade-long rule threatened to ignite civil war.
Residents were fleeing Sana’a 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.
The fighting, pitting Saleh’s security forces 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 Sana’a.
The defence ministry said 28 people were killed in an explosion in an arms storage area of Sana’a at dawn yesterday.
Fighters in civilian clothes roamed some districts yesterday 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 Sana’a like a shroud.
The US and Saudi Arabia, both targets of foiled attacks by a wing of al-Qaeda based in Yemen, have tried to defuse the crisis and stem any spread of anarchy that could give the global militant network more room to operate.
There are worries that Yemen, already teetering on the brink of financial ruin, could become a failed state that would undermine regional security and pose a serious risk to its neighbor Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter.
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 US Department of State 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 TV station had been “destroyed,” without giving details.