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Yemen's Saleh cedes Al Qaeda hotbed to militants. Why?

President Saleh, increasingly embattled as civil unrest spreads and tribal leaders intensify their fight, says that Al Qaeda seized the capital of Abyan province. But residents saw no evidence of a fight.

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However, some claim that the city was given up willingly, with security forces evacuating the area on Friday.

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Residents in Zinjibar were surprised to wake up and see armed, masked men taking positions throughout the city and telling then to return to their homes. The militants entered the city at night while everyone slept peacefully, according to two locals contacted by the Monitor who did not want to be named. There were no sounds of gunfire or explosions to suggest the city was taken by force.

“Saleh has surrendered the Abyan governorate armed militias,” said Gen. Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, a top military leader who defected from Saleh's regime in March to join the rebels, in a statement read by his spokesman.

Independent Yemeni analyst Abdul Ghani al-Iryani also says there were no clashes between AQAP militants and the Yemeni military in Abyan, where Yemen's elite, American-trained counterterrorism units have been stationed for months.

Yemeni forces had been engaging AQAP elements in fierce clashes throughout the south of the country in recent months. The fact that these forces, which were more than capable of repelling an AQAP advance, were pulled out of the area or not used was uncharacteristic of recent campaigns against militants, according to Mr. Iryani.

Protesters vow to remain peaceful

Just hours after the alleged AQAP seizure of Zinjibar, security forces stormed the “Freedom Square” camp in Taiz, destroying it, last Sunday 22 May.

Uniformed soldiers stormed the square with bulldozers, setting fire to tents using Molotov cocktails as snipers shot at unarmed demonstrators from surrounding buildings, according to eye witnesses.

More than 40 protesters are estimated to have been killed in the attack.

While Saleh and the Hashid confederation continue to battle in the streets of Sanaa, the Bakil confederation in the remote Nahm district, 30 miles northeast of Sanaa, have seized military bases from Saleh loyalists. The Hashid and Bakil tribal confederations are the two largest in the country, and their armed resistance to Saleh's regime is leading the country down the path to full-blown civil war.

But in spite of the violence, protesters have vowed to remain in the streets and to remain peaceful.

“As his world falls apart before him, we hope that the peaceful revolution will be the factor in this uprising that finally brings him [Saleh] down,” says Jamal Nasser, spokesman for the Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change, Yemen’s largest protest organization.

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