Sanaa, June 3: Yemen's prime minister and parliament speaker were wounded when shells smashed into a mosque in the presidential compound today, as fighting that has killed scores of people in north Sanaa spread to the south.
The attack was blamed by the authoritites on dissident tribesmen loyal to Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, who have been locked in fierce clashes with government forces in north Sanaa since Tuesday.
“The prime minister, head of the parliament and several other officials who attended the Friday prayers in the mosque at the presidential palace were wounded in the attack,” said Tareq al-Shami, spokesman for the ruling General People's Congress.
“The Ahmar (tribe) have crossed all red lines,” he added. The mosque attack came soon after Yemeni troops, who have deployed heavy weaponry in their battle against the tribesmen, sent a shell crashing into the home of Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar, a leader of the biggest opposition party and brother of Sheikh Sadiq.
Three shells also struck near the university campus in the city centre where opponents of President Ali Abdullah Saleh have been holding a sit-in since late January. After a brief lull at dawn, artillery and heavy machine-gun fire rocked the Al-Hassaba neighbourhood of northern Sanaa where Sheikh Sadiq has his base, witnesses said. They said that during the fighting the headquarters of national airline Yemenia was burnt down and the offices of Suhail TV, a channel controlled by Sheikh Sadiq, destroyed. There was no immediate word on casualties from the latest fighting as medics said ambulance crews were unable to access the battlegrounds.
Even as the fighting raged into a fourth straight day and the poverty-stricken Arabian Peninsula country teetered towards civil war, rival demonstrators took to the streets of Sanaa, witnesses said.
Hundreds of anti-Saleh demonstrators gathered at Change Square, near the university, for a day of solidarity with Taez, south of Sanaa, where security forces this week smashed a months-long sit-in protest at a cost of more than 50 lives.
Troops loyal to dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar were deployed to protect the protesters, although positions held by the rebel army units also came under artillery fire. At the same time, as on past Fridays, the Muslim day of weekly prayers, a large crowd of Saleh supporters gathered at a square near the presidential palace for a rally broadcast on state television.
In Taez, security forces backed by Republican Guards fired in the air to prevent youths from rallying in Tahrir Square for Friday prayers, forcing them to gather in small groups at nearby mosques, an AFP photographer said. More than 60 people have now been confirmed killed in the fighting in the capital since a fragile truce collapsed on Tuesday between Ahmar's heavily armed tribesmen and troops loyal to Saleh.
At the same time, Saleh, who has been in power in Sanaa since 1978, has faced nationwide protests against his rule for the past four months. AFP