This is the blog of journalist, Lonely Planet author and photographer Stuart Butler. It features news and travel updates from the regions in which Stuart works, including northeast Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan), Yemen and Sri Lanka.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Yemen Updates

A quick summary of the situation in Yemen.

The Yemeni uprising against the rule of President Saleh continues to turn ever more violent. Protestors, who’ve been camped out in the streets of many Yemeni towns and cities for several months now, are attempting to continue their largely peaceful demonstrations calling for Saleh to leave power. ‘
Change Square
’ in Sana’a remains the central focus of these demonstrations. Elsewhere though, events have taken a serious turn for the worse.

In Sana’a fighting has once again broken out between security forces and fighters loyal to Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, head of the Hashed tribe (the largest tribal grouping in Yemen). Fighting between these two groups first broke out last week. A ceasefire was declared at the weekend and then broken again at the start of this week. Both sides blame the other for breaking the ceasefire although most residents of Sana’a are blaming Saleh’s security forces. According to residents last night (31/05/11) Sana’a saw its heaviest fighting since the civil war in 1994. Reports say that at least 37 people were killed in the city and that al-Ahmar’s fighters have taken over the ruling party’s headquarters (General People’s Congress).

The following is the text of an email I received from a friend in Sana’a. It was sent to me on Sunday evening (29/05/11) before the resurge in fighting in Sana’a.

Dear Stuart,

Thank you for your concern.

I honestly do not know what is going on and where it is going to take us. The fighting is taking place away from our offices and from where we live, but it is still inside Sana'a. You remember Yemen Airways building in al giyada street - that's where all the fighting is taking place.

I was driving to and from work today and I noticed that there was no traffic jams at all. It seems most people have left to their villages. Or it could be that most people did not drive to work because of the lack of petrol and diesel.

We do not have electricity either and it is very close to the situation we lived during the 94 war.

We hope this ends soon and that Gulf countries could intervene and find a solution.

I heard that the ceasefire had ended today and that they are fighting again.

So far I have no plans to leave Sana'a but if things get worse we might send our families to Cairo or Amman or Addis Ababa.

Will keep in touch.

Elsewhere, in the large central city of Ta’iz the army moved in on Sunday night/Monday morning to clear protestors from their camps. Witnesses say that the army fired live rounds indiscriminately into the square and sprayed petrol on the protestors tents before setting them alight. Exact casualty figures are hard to verify but at least fifty people were killed (including disabled people who were burnt to death in their tents) and many more injured and then arrested by security forces. On Tuesday protestors again took to the streets of Ta’iz and a further twelve were reported killed by security forces.

In the south of the country the town of Zinjibar close to Aden was bombed by the Yemeni air force after the town was reportedly taken over by fighters loyal to AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula). There were an unknown number of casualties in both the initial take over of the town and the bombing raids. It should be noted that there has been much confusion over the identity of the fighters who have taken over Zinjibar. Saleh describes them as al-Qaeda militants (who certainly have a presence in the vicinity of Zinjibar) but many Yemenis and other observers say that they are actually government sponsored gunmen who Saleh has sent into the town in order to frighten western and other Arab governments into thinking that if he leaves power then the country will fall to al-Qaeda and other militants. To back this theory up it appears that just prior to the arrival of the fighters the regular army and police inexplicably left the town.

News from the rest of the country is becoming increasingly hard to come by, but it would appear that Yemen is now virtually in a state of civil war. And just in case you were wondering whether it was still possible to continue with planned visits to Yemen the answer is very much NO. Even if the fighting were all to die down tomorrow it appears that no foreigners are now being allowed to enter the country (thus making independent verification of news coming out of Yemen hard to verify).

As the situation in Yemen develops I shall add updates to this blog.

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