SECURITY forces and opposition tribal fighters battled with automatic weapons, mortars and tanks in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, yesterday, blasting buildings and setting government offices on fire in an eruption of violence after President Ali Abdullah Saleh refused to sign an agreement calling on him to step down.
At least six people were killed and 25 wounded in the fighting, the fiercest yet between the pro-and anti-Saleh camps, which raised fears that the collapse of efforts to negotiate a peaceful resolution to Yemen’s three-month-old crisis could throw the country into a violent confrontation. Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis have been holding protests since February demanding Saleh’s removal, and they have been hit by a bloody crackdown — but before yesterday there had been only minor armed clashes between the two sides.
The violence erupted outside the Sanaa home of Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, leader of Yemen’s largest and most powerful tribe, the Hashid. Saleh belongs to the tribe, but al-Ahmar announced in March that the Hashid were joining the popular uprising against the president. Fighting raged for more than six hours, until the US ambassador mediated a ceasefire, according to a ruling party official.
Abdel-Qawi al-Qawsi, an aide to al-Ahmar, accused security forces of trying to storm the Hashid leader’s residential compound and said tribal fighters counterattacked. Some witnesses said security forces had been setting up roadblocks and that tribesmen saw it as a provocation.
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