Yemen violence erupts after months of stalemate (video)

Nearly 50 people have been killed as Yemeni protesters and loyalists forces have clashed in the capital. A key source of tension is the weakened president's failure to transfer power.

By , Staff writer

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    Anti-government protesters throw rocks at police as smoke rises from a government building during clashes in Sanaa September 18. At least 20 protesters were killed in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Sunday, when security forces opened fire on one of the biggest demonstrations against President Ali Abdullah Saleh in recent months, a Reuters witness said.
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Yemen's capital is seething with the worst outbreak of violence in months, as protesters fed up with President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime push further into territory controlled by government loyalists.

The fighting, in which nearly 50 people have been killed so far, underscores concerns that the impoverished Arab state could once again approach the brink of civil war if an orderly transition is not secured.

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Protesters had been hopeful that Mr. Saleh would step down after a June 3 attack on his compound forced him to flee to Saudi Arabia, where he has remained to convalesce. But Saleh last week asked his vice president to once again open negotiations on a Gulf-mediated deal that would see him transfer power in exchange of immunity – a deal that he has thrice committed to signing only to renege at the 11th hour.

"I fear the situation will get out of hand. There is no new initiative to cool things off and the other political players doubt that Saleh will abide by any terms that are set," Saadaldeen Talib, a former Yemeni opposition parliamentarian, told Reuters."Complete disintegration and chaos might come very soon."

Protesters saw Saleh's latest move as yet another stall tactic, and they expressed their frustration with stepped-up fighting in Sanaa, the capital, where they have long camped out in an area they've dubbed "Change Square."

On Sunday, protesters marched toward the presidential palace, breaking through the security forces' line and prompting battles in the street that killed 26 and wounded dozens, the Associated Press reports. Today, snipers on rooftops surrounding Change Square fired on the protesters there, killing at least eight, according to another AP report. Rocket-propelled grenades also appear to have been used against some protesters, according to multiple news reports.

Despite the violence, protest leaders in the square urged another forward advance today, Reuters reports. However, in an apparent bid to defuse the violence, a general who this spring defected to the protesters' side – Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar – blocked the advance.

With Sunday's gains, the protesters and Gen. Ahmar's troops are closing in on the elite unit commanded by Ahmed Ali Saleh, President Saleh's eldest son. The city has been tensely divided between government troops and those behind Ahmar for months, poised to explode into confrontation once again, as it did earlier in the uprising. According to the Guardian, the number of government troops out on the streets has increased in recent days.

Yemeni Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi is expected to sign the Gulf deal on Saleh's behalf within days, Al Jazeera reported.

"Within a week, the vice-president will sign the Gulf Initiative in the name of the president," a high-ranking Saudi official, who requested anonymity, told reporters.

... According to the Saudi official, "among the guarantees demanded by Saleh are that his son be kept in the next government."

For now, many in the country are confused about who is in charge and making daily life even more difficult for most Yemenis, The New York Times reports.

Antigovernment protesters still hunker down on the streets in sit-ins. Military units — divided between Saleh loyalists and opponents — keep their artillery on the mountaintops surrounding Sana, pointed at each another. Meanwhile, Mr. Saleh is recuperating in Saudi Arabia from a bomb attack in June on the presidential palace, and no one is quite sure who is running the nation.

Still, the current crisis has meant that Yemenis have had to bite down and bear life’s hardships even more than before. The patriarch of [a family living in a Sanaa suburb,] ... said that Yemen’s current crisis was the worst he’d seen in all his 60 years, including during the civil war in 1994, because the economic hardship then was not as severe.

Oxfam has warned in a new report that Yemen is facing a food crisis, with 7.5 million Yemenis – one third of the population – going hungry, the BBC reports.

"A protracted political stalemate over much of the past six months has left the government in paralysis, prompting a fuel crisis that has brought the economy to the verge of collapse," says the charity in a new report.

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