SANAA (Reuters) – Yemeni forces clashed with soldiers backing a mass protest movement in the capital Sanaa yesterday, breaching a short-lived truce on a day when six protesters were killed by snipers, shelling and gunfire.
In another sign of worsening conditions for a deal to end eight months of protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary General Abdbullatif al-Zayani left Sanaa empty-handed after two days striving to get a transfer of power pact signed to defuse the crisis.
The state news agency SABA quoted him as saying he would have to wait until “conditions were favourable” to achieve this, suggesting the two sides were no closer to agreement. A diplomatic source also told Reuters the United Nations planned to send home 50 employees tomorrow: “It is because of deteriorating security conditions.”
Civil war looms in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country over Saleh’s refusal to quit power despite the popular revolt demanding an end to his autocratic 33-year rule.
Escalating confrontations between loyalist forces and soldiers who have defected to the opposition have created a worst-case scenario for diplomats struggling to finalise a power transition deal while Saleh recuperates in Riyadh from a June assassination attempt.
They are trying to prevent a further spread of the conflict in the country on the doorstep of Saudi Arabia, which holds the world’s largest oil reserves.
Chaos could also offer fertile ground to al Qaeda, whose militants in the past few months have seized cities in a province just east of a key oil shipping channel.
After hours of calm yesterday, sombre prayers were shattered by heavy gunfire and explosions at a mass funeral for those who died in the previous three days of fighting. Curls of smoke rose from Sanaa’s skyline.
Doctors said nine soldiers had been killed from troops loyal to defected General Ali Mohsen, who threw his weight behind the protests in March. They were hit by mortar fire that not only hit Mohsen’s base, but “Change Square,” the name given to the 4-km (2.5-mile) encampment where thousands have staged a sit-in for months at the foot of the military base.