Yemen army, tribes in offensive on militants in south

ADEN,  (Reuters) – Yemeni forces backed by armed  tribesmen launch-ed an offensive to retake Zinjibar, capital of  southern Abyan province, officials said yesterday, after months  of fighting with Islamist militants who seized the city.

Dozens have been killed and some 54,000 civilians have fled  Abyan, which has descended into daily bloodshed as the army  confronts militants the government says have ties to al Qaeda.

The region lies east of the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait,  where some 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.

After weeks of pleas for support from a besieged military  brigade near Zinjibar, the government sent the first  reinforcements on Saturday, aiming to flush militants out of the  seaside city.

“The head of the Defence Ministry sent reinforcements  including tanks, rocket launchers and 500 extra soldiers,” a  local official said.

“These forces began attacking (the city) backed by heavy  tank shelling and rocket attacks from naval ships in order to  liberate the 25th Brigade just outside Zinjibar and under siege  for over a month.”
Residents said dozens were hurt on both sides in street  fighting, after troops and tribesmen entered the city from the  east.

A local official said three militant leaders were killed,  including Nasser al-Maraji, whom he identified as a prominent  local Islamist leader.

While unrest mounts in Abyan, mass protests demanding  President Ali Abdullah Saleh leave office have entered their  sixth month, paralysing several cities and pushing the country  into political limbo.
Yesterday, troops loyal to Saleh opened fire to disperse a  protest march in the Red Sea port city of Hudaida, residents  said. A hospital official said about 50 people were injured.

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