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In Yemen, Saleh's military forces showing signs of strain

Yemen may fall into the hands of its military. But the military is already strained by defections and it could splinter further – resulting in civil war.

By Tom FinnContributor / May 23, 2011

Antigovernment protesters, react during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa, Yemen, on Monday, May 23.

Hani Mohammed/AP


Sanaa, Yemen

Hopes for a negotiated settlement to Yemen’s mounting political crisis sank yesterday when President Ali Abdullah Saleh turned down for a third time a deal that would have offered him immunity from prosecution in exchange for stepping down.

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The collapse of the Gulf-backed negotiations is the latest chapter in more than three months of steadily deteriorating relations between Saleh’s ruling party and the opposition, who despite numerous rounds of talks and increased pressure from the US and Europe have been unable to agree on a suitable transition deal.

With political negotiation failing, Yemen’s economy faltering, and tensions running high among protesters on the ground, analysts predict that this impoverished country may soon end up in the hands of Yemen’s fractious armed forces – which could in turn lead to civil war. A key question is whether those forces still loyal to Saleh will be willing and able to suppress the swelling levels of dissent against the regime.

IN PICTURES: Yemen protests

“The level of restiveness in the military is as high as it is in the street and there’s no way of guaranteeing their loyalty,” says Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani, a political analyst based in Sanaa. “In Yemen we don’t really have a military as an institution, we have tribal factions in uniform, many of whom can be bought over to the other side. If he [Saleh] chooses to have a military showdown it will definitely be the end of this regime but also a lot of bloodshed.”

Military factions face off in four-hour shoot-out

Yemen has the second-largest military force on the Arabian Peninsula (after Saudi Arabia) but for years it has been a fractious and divided entity. In mid-March those divisions were exacerbated when a string of senior military generals defected from the regime and declared their support for the youthful protesters seeking Saleh’s ouster.

Among them was Gen. Ali Mohsin, who controlled – and still controls – the First Armoured Division along with around 50 percent of the country’s military resources and assets. Since Mohsin’s defection there have been several bloody clashes with troops still loyal to the president.


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