Thursday, May 26, 2011

Yemen's Saleh Sits Tight As Death Toll Mounts

Despite multiple efforts to cajole Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down and accept a transition to a new government, Yemen remains racked by violence between Saleh's loyalists and opposition groups demanding his removal. Saleh is hardening his position, and the death toll is swiftly rising:
Mr. Saleh's tougher position represents a prickly challenge for the international community's resolve to keep the fragile nation from civil war and support Arab democracy movements in the Middle East.

At least 35 people died Wednesday in ferocious battles between pro- and antigovernment forces, the third day of fighting since Mr. Saleh refused to sign a deal brokered by Arab diplomats and supported by Washington that offered him and his family immunity in return for leaving power.

In an interview with the Reuters news agency, Mr. Saleh, who has led Yemen throughout its modern history, struck a defiant tone, saying he would make "no concessions" to his political opponents and that he wouldn't capitulate to the use of force against him. "The truth of the matter that everyone should understand is that we do not take foreign orders," he said. The political stalemate and violence was "an internal matter."

The clashes that have transformed parts of San'a into an urban war zone this week represent one of the worst-case scenarios for U.S. policy makers. The battles pit pro-government security forces under the command of Mr. Saleh's relatives that previously have received U.S. training and weapons and heavily armed tribesmen who switched loyalties away from the leader to the opposition that demands an end to his 33-year rule.

Loyalists are fighting with tribal groups backing a rival tribal leader. Saleh shows no sign of leaving anytime soon, and Sa'ana residents are fleeing the capital in light of the increasing violence.

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