BBC News | June 7, 2011
At least 30 people have been killed in heavy clashes in the southern Yemeni city of Zinjibar, officials have said.
The violence, which officials blame on al-Qaeda militants, comes days after President Ali Abdullah Saleh left the country after being injured in an attack on his compound.
Government officials routinely blame violence in the country on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
There were also reports of violence in Yemen’s second largest city, Taiz. According to the AFP news agency, it is now controlled by government opponents.
“We the tribes, in support to the oppressed and in retaliation against the illegitimate government … have deployed around government installations … which we now control in order to protect from thugs,” Sheikh Hammoud Saeed al-Mikhlafi, the head of the tribal council in Taiz, told the agency by telephone.
AP reports that clashes erupted near the presidential palace in Taiz and that a shell fired by a tank near the palace landed on a nearby residential area. Four people were killed, three of whom were children, the agency reports.
On Monday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged a “peaceful and orderly transition” of power from the president, who has led the country for 33 years.
Western powers fear the crisis enveloping the country might make it easier for the powerful Yemen-based wing of al-Qaeda to strengthen.
Mr Saleh left for Saudi Arabia at the weekend for surgery after sustaining wounds during Friday’s attack in the capital, Sanaa. He is being treated in a Riyadh hospital.
The 69-year-old was injured when rockets struck his presidential palace, killing seven people and wounding senior officials in what officials said was an assassination attempt.
In Zinjibar, reports said that both government troops and fighters were killed during overnight clashes as troops moved on the city, sections of which have been held by gunmen since late May.
“Heavy fighting broke out between the army and al-Qaeda gunmen when troops advanced towards the city to storm it,” one military official told AFP.
Military officials said that among the 30 dead in the city was a man they said was an al-Qaeda leader. Hassan al-Aqili is described as a leading member of the group in the northern region of Marib.
Once home to about 50,000 people, Zinjibar is reported to be now mostly a ghost town because of the clashes.