Gun battles erupted across the capital of Yemen on May 23 as security forces clashed with fighters from the country’s most powerful tribe. The fighting came a day after President Ali Abdullah Saleh formally reversed his earlier promise to sign a deal brokered by the Gulf states that would end his 33 years in power, prompting regional leaders to abandon their efforts at mediating a solution to Yemen’s political impasse . The violence began outside the Sana’a residence of Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, leader of the country’s largest tribe, the Hashid. Saleh himself belongs the tribe, but Ahmar announced in March that the Hashid were joining the popular uprising against the president. As the violence flared, convoys of armed tribesman in SUVs raced towards the area where the fighting broke out. The area was cordoned off by security forces making it difficult to establish an exact number of casualties. However, a doctor at the nearby al-Kuwait hospital said more than 60—both tribesmen and soldiers—were treated for bullet wounds and at least 10 soldiers had died. Stray missiles hit a nearby Yemenia Airlines headquarters, setting it on fire, and one journalist was among the injured.
The fighting was the fiercest yet between supporters and opponents of President Saleh. A government official from Yemen’s embassy in Washington said “armed mobs loyal to the al-Ahmar family had fired two anti-aircraft missiles at the ministry of the interior.” He added: “Today’s actions show the ill intentions of the al-Ahmar family who have been bankrolling the opposition movement and are now using heavy artillery to attack government buildings. The Yemeni opposition accused the security forces of trying to “storm” the Ahmar’s house and it warned of “assaults that aim to drag the country into civil war.” (The Guardian, May 23)