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Rival forces clash in Yemen capital

September 29, 2011

A defected Yemeni soldier chants slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa, September 28, 2011. — Photo by AP

SANAA: Fierce clashes erupted in the Yemeni capital on Thursday between troops loyal to embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh and forces led by defected General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, witnesses said.

The firefights broke out in the north of the city between forces from the elite Republican Guard, led by Saleh's son Ahmed, and soldiers from Ahmar's First Armoured Division, which provides protection for anti-Saleh protesters.

Republican Guard forces based in Amran Street were locked in a heavy exchange of fire with dissident troops deployed in Thalathine Street near Change Square where protesters demanding Saleh's ouster have camped for months, witnesses said.

Earlier on Thursday, loyalist troops clashed with Ahmar tribesmen in Al-Hasaba, in renewed fighting with the influential tribe whose leader Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar has sided with the protesters.

Saleh, who is under international pressure to relinquish power and allow new elections, returned to the country on Friday, sparking violence in which scores of people have been killed.

The 69-year-old president has repeatedly refused to sign a power transfer deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council under which he would hand over to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi in return for immunity from prosecution.

Youth groups said they plan to march Thursday from their encampment at Change Square in north Sanaa to the south of the city which hosts Saleh's residence.

“There will be an escalation during the coming two days. The youths will Hedda Street, where the president's residence is,” Walid al-Amari, a leading activist from the youth revolution committee, told AFP.

He said protesters wanted to march peacefully and have asked the leadership of the defected First Armoured Division not to provide any armed protection that could provoke Saleh loyalists.

“We have asked the troops of the First Division not to accompany us,” he said.