Explosions and street fighting grip Yemen capital

Wed Jun 1, 2011 6:36pm EDT
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By Mohamed Sudam and Mohammed Ghobari

SANAA (Reuters) - Renewed fighting in Yemen's capital between a powerful tribal group and President Ali Abdullah Saleh's forces has killed at least 19 people this week and rocked Sanaa with explosions, officials said on Wednesday.

World powers have been pressing Saleh to sign a Gulf-led deal to end his three-decade rule and stem spreading chaos in unstable Yemen, a haven for al Qaeda militants and neighbor to the world's biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia.

Kuwait, part of the Gulf Cooperation Council that tried unsuccessfully to broker a power transfer deal, said it had evacuated its diplomats from Yemen. Qatar, another GCC member, also suspended most operations there. Italy has shut its mission, citing threats against Western embassies.

Witnesses said they heard several blasts but were not sure of the cause or damage near the Hasaba district, the focal point of fighting last week that killed at least 115 people and pushed the country closer to civil war.

"There are very powerful explosions. Sounds like missiles or mortars. May God protect us," a Hasaba resident said.

After a lull of several hours, large blasts began shaking northern Sanaa and nearby areas late on Wednesday, residents said. There was no immediate report of casualties or damage.

This week, there have been three main flashpoints in the country -- the fighting in the capital, government troops gunning down protesters in Taiz in the south and a battle with al Qaeda and Islamic militants in the coastal city of Zinjibar.

Residents also reported overnight fighting near Sanaa airport, which was closed briefly last week during skirmishes between Saleh's forces and opponents within the powerful Hashed tribal confederation, who are led by Sadeq al-Ahmar.   Continued...