09-19-2011, 08:33 AM
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Re: Yemen Protesters Shot 9-18-11
SANAA, Yemen -- Firing from rooftops and the back of pickup trucks, security forces turned heavy-caliber machine guns and other weapons on demonstrators here Sunday, setting off battles between army defectors and forces loyal to the government in the worst day of violence in the capital since March.
The violence left at least 24 demonstrators dead and more than 200 wounded in the Yemeni capital and threatened to scuttle any hopes for an accord between President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his opponents, who have been locked in a standoff for months over demands that he step down and transfer power. The fighting also raised the prospect of open and more intense sparring among factions of Yemen's divided military, which many here fear could lead to civil war.
Already the political paralysis has sapped the weak central government in a country whose untamed reaches have become a base for Islamist militants linked to al-Qaida. Conflict has raged in outlying provinces for months. The vacuum of authority has concerned U.S. officials, who have struck at al-Qaida cells with drone aircraft run by the CIA.
Saleh remains in Saudi Arabia, where he has been recuperating from wounds suffered in a bomb attack on the presidential palace in June.
The violence Sunday began as anti-government demonstrators attempted to march for the first time in months beyond the part of Sanaa in which they have camped in a sit-in under the protection of Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, leader of the 1st Armored Division and a staunch opponent of the president.
As they did, men in civilian clothes opened fire from rooftops, the protesters said, and government security forces shot at them from a Ministry of Electricity building and, using machine guns, from the backs of pickup trucks. The gunfire lasted about an hour.
A separate group of protesters marching on what is known as the Ring Road that runs around the capital were met with gunfire and tear gas as soon as they left the area controlled by the 1st Armored Division, an attack that continued into the evening.
"I swear to God what happened today is a horrible massacre, and we are not able to even describe it that the regime would use this violence against peaceful protesters," said Bassem al-Sharjabi, a lawyer who is one of the protest leaders. "This is a crime against humanity. We demand from the international community to intervene to stop these crimes."
Protesters said the army division that opened fire on them with heavy weapons was under the command of Gen. Yahya Saleh, nephew of the president and chief of central security forces.
Yemen's government issued several online statements Sunday accusing the protesters of staging an illegal march and saying that members of the Islamist political party started the attacks.