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Babylon & Beyond

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Category: Yemen

YEMEN: Scores killed in explosion at weapons factory

At least 80 people were killed when a powerful blast ripped through a weapons factory in southern Yemen on Monday after Islamic militants temporarily seized control of the plant and local residents began looting, media reports said.

[Updated, 12:55 p.m.: An earlier version of this post began by saying the death toll was at least 100. Although death tolls vary according to media reports, newer information indicates that the toll might be lower.]

The death toll from the blast varied widely among news agencies, with some reporting more than 100 dead. A local journalist and other media reports said the death toll was at least 80.

According to the Associated Press, quoting doctors in the town of Jaar where the explosion occurred,  more bodies were expected to be pulled from the rubble. The medical workers said men, women and children were among the dead.

"This accident is a true catastrophe, the first of its kind" in the Abyan region, where Jaar is located, a doctor at the town's state-run hospital was quoted as saying. “There are so many burned bodies. I can't even describe the situation.”

Yemen's state-run Saba news agency said the local governor had instructed that a committee be formed to investigate the incident.  It added that the factory was completely destroyed in the blast. Some reports suggested the explosion might have been caused by a cigarette.

The incident came a day after clashes broke out between militants and the Yemeni army, fueling fears that Yemen might descend into chaos and boost Al Qaeda in the country while the government of President Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled for more than 30 years, is in deep crisis after massive popular protests.

Islamist militants reportedly took control of a number of buildings in Jaar, including the weapons plant, on Sunday. They reportedly entered the factory, took what they wanted and left. Looters from the area then entered the building. 

The plant reportedly makes Kalashnikov rifles, munitions, and explosives used in road construction.

Media reports say police and security forces have recently deserted some towns in Yemen amid an escalating wave of anti-government protests. In some cases, they were chased out by protesters from villages and cities, including the area surrounding the weapons factory.

--  Alexandra Sandels in Beirut



MIDDLE EAST: White House condemns violence in Syria and Yemen

On a day of numerous protests in the Middle East, the White House on Friday condemned violence against demonstrators in Syria and Yemen.

The White House “urges the leaders of these countries to pursue peace [and] political dialogue with broad swaths of their country,” Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters. 

Carney also said that the president has reached out to congressional leaders and would address the American people in the near future about his decision to involve U.S. forces in the Libyan campaign.

"I think that the American people do expect and will get from this president what they have gotten in the past, which is a very clear explanation of the decisions he makes when he makes the significant decision to engage in military action," Carney said at his afternoon briefing. 

-- Alexandra Zavis

YEMEN: Security forces open fire on protesters [Updated]

Government security forces opened fire on protesters when they awoke for prayers near Sana University Saturday morning, killing one man and injuring hundreds, witnesses said.

Abdullah Ali Dahan, who was killed, had been a part of weeks of protests calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

[For the record at 11:57 a.m.: A previous version of this post identified the slain protester as Ahmed A. Manaiee. He was subsequently identified as Abdullah Ali Dahan.]

Security forces used tasers, tear gas and live ammunition against the protesters after they claimed additional space for a sit-in near Sana University, witnesses said.

The violence came one day after a large, peaceful demonstration in which nearly 100,000 protesters -- men, women and children -- flooded the streets of Yemen's capital calling for Saleh's ouster.

On Tuesday, two protesters were killed when the army fired live ammunition and tear gas into a demonstration in front of Sana University, according to medics on the scene. More than 30 protesters have died in Yemen since demonstrations began early last month, according to human rights groups.

-- Haley Sweetland Edwards in Sana, Yemen

YEMEN: President Saleh tries again to appease protesters

Opposition leaders in Yemen rejected a third attempt by embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh to appease their demands Thursday.  

Speaking at a large pro-government rally, Saleh proposed new concessions but defied their key demand when said he would transfer executive powers to a newly elected parliamentary government “by the end of this year or early next year,” but remain president until scheduled elections in 2013.

The president’s plan offered to form a national committee to draft a new constitution that would transfer power from the president to an elected parliament in a year’s time. A referendum to approve the new constitution would be held at the end of this year, according to a statement by the president’s ruling party, the General People’s Congress.

The plan also proposed to implement new electoral laws and establish a new independent Supreme Committee for Elections and Referendum.

“The president’s plan does not address the problems of the country, or the demands of the people on the street,” said Yassin Said Noman, president of Yemen’s opposition coalition, the Joint Meetings Party. “His plan offered a way for him get out of this crisis himself, but not to solve the crisis in the country.”

In an attempt to quell growing public anger since early February, Saleh has announced that he will not run for president again in 2013 or support the succession of his son. He has also promised sweeping economic, political and electoral reforms. Last week, the president offered to form a “unity government” that would allow key opposition leaders to rule alongside the ruling party.

All the president’s conciliatory initiatives have been rejected by both opposition leaders and by growing crowds of anti-Saleh demonstrators across Yemen’s cities and provinces calling for Saleh’s immediate departure.

Late Tuesday, two protesters were killed when the army fired live ammunition and tear gas into a demonstration in front of Sana University, according to medics on the scene. More than a hundred demonstrators were also injured Tuesday by tear gas and bullets.

More than 30 protesters have been killed in Yemen since protests began early last month, according to Amnesty International.

-- Haley Sweetland Edwards in Sana, Yemen

YEMEN: Economic roots of social unrest in Yemen

Editor's note: Analysts at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace are included among contributors to Babylon & Beyond. Carnegie is renowned for its political, economic and social analysis of the Middle East. The views represented are the author's own.

Social unrest is growing in Yemen as prominent tribal leaders and members of parliament join protesters in urging President Ali Abdullah Saleh to leave office. In response, Saleh — who has held office for 33 years — promised not to seek reelection in 2013 or hand over power to his son.

6a00d8341c630a53ef0147e2190b46970b-800wi The government also passed a series of economic measures to improve Yemenis’ livelihood. The package — expected to raise the 2011 budget deficit to $3.75 billion — includes a 25% increase in civil and military servants’ wages, a 50% cut in the national income tax and additional food subsidies. However, these measures fall short of expectations and fail to address the key structural issues behind the turmoil.

Yemen remains the poorest country in the Arab world, with a per-capita income of $1,300; almost half of the population lives on less than $2 a day. The country also holds the region’s worst human development records: a 54% literacy rate, a 62-year life expectancy, and high levels of maternal mortality and child malnutrition.

In addition, only four in 10 people have access to electricity and one in four people have clean drinking water. The situation may grow worse as Yemen’s population is expected to double to 40 million people by 2030.

A weak and oil-dependent economy aggravates the country’s poverty and demographic challenges. Petroleum accounts for roughly 25% of GDP, 70% of government revenue, and more than 90% of Yemen’s exports. While the government has implemented reforms recently to improve the investment climate — especially in the non-oil sector — Yemen represents a risky business environment given its political instability, weak rule of law, ineffective government and widespread corruption. The country ranked 146 of 178 on Transparency International’s 2010 corruption index.

Yemen’s high unemployment rate, which stands officially at 16.5% but is estimated to be much higher, is another challenge; almost half of youth are unemployed. Even those few people with university degrees lack the right skills to meet market demand. And leading job sectors — such as agriculture, the public sector and tourism — suffer from factors such as scarce water resources and political turmoil.

As a result, it’s not surprising that Yemen has failed to achieve political legitimacy and establish a productive economy. That’s why Yemen must begin developing a roadmap for the future now.

First, Yemenis must ensure a smooth political transition when Saleh leaves office and build strong institutions to enforce the law and fight corruption. Second, they must create sound economic policies to address poverty, unemployment, and mismanagement of public resources that are backed by institutions accountable to Yemenis. Otherwise, Yemen’s future may be severely constrained by reduced government revenue, weak state capacity and internal conflicts.

Finally, the regional Gulf Cooperation Council must identify ways to improve economic and employment prospects for Yemenis, including opening labor market access to job seekers and investing in Yemen. Each of these steps will help resolve the issues feeding Yemen’s unrest and ensure the country is more secure in the future.

--Lahcen Achy in Beirut

Lahcen Achy is a resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle Center in Beirut who specializes in the political economy of the Middle East.


YEMEN: Anti-government Facebook groups, Web services under attack from "e-thugs", activist says

Picture 2 Battles between anti-government demonstrators and supporters of the Yemeni regime are apparently not only taking place in the country's streets but also on the Internet, where activists claim bands of pro-government electronic thugs, or "e-thugs", are aggressively attacking Facebook pages calling for the end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime and recently spammed a pro-revolution Web service until collapse.

After hearing complaints from administrators and members of Yemeni pro-revolution groups on Facebook about some members trying to hinder the group from reaching its goals, harassing other members and at times even trying to steer the group into becoming supportive of President Saleh, Sweden-based Yemeni analyst and Web activist Walid Saqaf decided it was time to act.

On Yemen, Yemen's first news crawler and search engine that Saqaf set up a couple of years ago, he created a special service that allowed the public to report and blacklist members of Facebook groups that are known to be supporters of the Yemeni regime and users who may have attempted to sabotage groups calling for the ouster of President Saleh.

"This service allows users to report such members directly ... and involves the verification of the status of the reported user and upon verification of his/her pro-Saleh bias, the name is listed in a public database or list," said a press release issued by Saqaf on Monday. "The list could be used as a discretionary measure by group administrators to assess the risk before accepting certain members based on their history of posts that may have disrupted other groups."

But when Babylon & Beyond spoke to Saqaf on Wednesday, three days after the launching of the new service, he claimed that e-thugs had spammed the site so badly that he had been forced to take it offline.

"Unfortunately, the list has been temporarily suspended because of an attack by so many people reporting different pro-revolution members," he said in an e-mail. "The same thugs have used the service against the revolution. E-thugs are still springing up everywhere. It is a really distressing phenomena."

Saqaf, however, hasn't thrown in the towel, saying the project has only been put on hold until he and his colleagues figure out a way of thwarting the attacks. 

"Now we have to change tactics.... I'm reaching out to some Facebook activists to see how to counter their attacks," he said.

Last month, Yemen Portal rolled out a special aggregator and search engine for posts from Facebook groups and pages calling President Saleh to step down. According to Saqaf, the aggregator tracked more than 120,000 posts and comments from more than 60 Facebook groups and other pages promoting Facebook-based efforts by Yemeni youth.

The battle continues.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Yemen logo. Credit: Yemen Portal website

MIDDLE EAST: Protest movements give new energy to International Women's Day

International Women's Day is normally an occasion for politicians to issue lukewarm statements about equality, while rights activists struggle to rally support around issues such as citizenship, child-custody law and domestic abuse.

But this year, women across the Middle East and North Africa are highlighting their role in the protest movements that have toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt and appear on the verge of pushing through major changes in other places.

Twitter and Facebook were filled with messages of support for the women of Egypt and Tunisia, as well as protesters in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Iran. Some posted video tributes to the female protesters, while others, perhaps bolstered by the energy of the protest movements, published their own demands for equal rights and a greater say in their countries' politics.


The top video calls for equal citizenship rights for Saudi women, while the second features women who took part in the Egyptian protest movement that forced former President Hosni Mubarak from power (both are subtitled in English).

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YEMEN: Soldiers open fire on protesters, killing four

Yemen At least four people were killed and seven wounded when Yemeni soldiers armed with heavy machine-guns opened fire on protesters throwing rocks at their army post in the northern town of Harf Sofyan, the Associated Press reported.

A witness, who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal, said the soldiers apparently thought the protesters were trying to attack the post.

Tens of thousands of people rallied Friday in several cities across Yemen,  including the capital, Sana, calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh, a U.S. ally, has promised to step down after national elections in 2013, an offer rejected by the opposition.

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YEMEN: Key tribal leader resigns, dealing a blow to Saleh [Updated]

The leader of one of Yemen's most important tribes joined the anti-regime movement Saturday, effectively abandoning President Ali Abdullah Saleh and escalating pressure on the leader to step down.

"I have announced my resignation from the General People's Congress in protest at the repression of peaceful demonstrators in Sana, Taez and Aden," Sheikh Hussein bin Abdullah Ahmar told members of the Hashid tribe in a gathering north of Sana, the capital. Tribe members reportedly broke out into anti-government chants after his remarks.

The Hashid tribe is one of Yemen's largest and most influential. Also at the meeting were members of the Baqil tribe, according to news network Al Arabiya. Members of the Hashid are said to have withdrawn support from the Yemeni leader.

[For the record at 1:10 p.m.: An earlier version of this post stated that both tribes had withdrawn support for Saleh. Some members of the Hashid tribe have withdrawn support.]

Saleh has ruled the country since 1978, maintaining his grip on power by courting allegiances from key members of the powerful tribes.

The resignations came after the death toll rose to four Saturday after police reportedly fired into a crowd of protesters. 

A key leader of the Sanhan tribe, the president's home tribe and a Hashid affiliate, resigned earlier in the week.

About 180,000 protesters took to the streets Friday in the largest pro-democracy demonstrations in the nation's history. The protests were markedly larger than ones earlier in the week, which mostly consisted of students.

-- Alana Semuels

YEMEN: President tells security forces to protect those protesting against him

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh ordered security forces to protect the anti-government demonstrators trying to oust him, the government said in a press statement issued through its embassy in Washington.

The directive followed reports of at least 15 deaths among the mostly young protesters demanding that Saleh step down after 32 years in power. The protests in Yemen appear to have been inspired by the success of anti-regime uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in ousting entrenched authoritarian leaders.

The president, who has already said he won't seek re-election in 2013, said he had "instructed all security services to thwart all clashes and prevent direct confrontation between pro- and anti-government protesters," the statement said. It also called on the protesters to "remain vigilant" and prevent their peaceful ranks from being infiltrated by those prone to violence.

According to the Al Jazeera news network, thousands of students and other young demonstrators occupied a tent city outside Sana University on Thursday, the fifth day of a concerted action to force Saleh's resignation.

Angry regime supporters have confronted the demonstrators in recent days, wielding clubs and knives and at times firing shots at opponents they contend are trying to destabilize the country.

-- Carol J. Williams


YEMEN: Nine members of parliament resign to protest government violence

Yemen Nine members of parliament have resigned from Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ruling party to protest government violence against demonstrators, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Two anti-government protesters were killed and more than 10 were wounded by gunfire during clashes with supporters of Saleh in the capital city Sana on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

The resignations, including some major allies of Saleh, are a political blow to a president facing popular demands for an end to his 32-year rule, though he still retains the support of 80% of parliamentarians, Reuters said.

"The people must have the right to demonstrate peacefully," Abdulaziz Jubari, a leading parliamentarian who has resigned, told Reuters.

Jubari said the parliamentarians had sent a 10-point letter to Saleh with demands for immediate reform and restructuring of the army to make it more representative of Yemen's complex society, and to aid a transition to democracy, Reuters said.

The Times reported Wednesday that two weeks of protests in Yemen have repeatedly called for Saleh to step down, but the movement has lacked cohesion.

-- Garrett Therolf

Photo: A riot policeman carries a tear gas launcher during an anti-government protest in Sana Wednesday. Credit: Reuters

YEMEN: Protesters attacked by government supporters

YemenGovernment supporters swinging clubs tried to drive anti-government protesters from a square in Yemen's capital late Tuesday, the Associated Press reported, as tens of thousands rallied across the country in a widening campaign to bring down President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The pro-government forces eventually withdrew from the square near Sana University, according to the Associated Press. Eleven protesters were taken to the hospital, two of them in serious condition, medical officials told the AP.

The protests erupted  this month as part of a wave of unrest that has spread across the Arab world.

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