Clashes escalate in Yemen after crackdown

Mon Sep 19, 2011 10:23pm GMT

By Erika Solomon and Mohammed Ghobari

SANAA (Reuters) - At least 56 people were killed over two days in the deadliest crackdown yet on pro-democracy protesters in Sanaa, triggering fierce gun battles on Monday between soldiers who had defected to the opposition and those loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Opposition forces said they agreed a truce with the government, but several rounds of gunfire and explosions were heard in the Yemeni capital and a government official said the two sides were still working on a cease-fire deal.

The military confrontation between opposition forces loyal to defected General Ali Mohsen and government troops was triggered by the government crackdown on protests, threatening a new and even more violent phase in Yemen's eight-month standoff.

Demonstrators demanding an end to Saleh's 33-year rule ratcheted up their protests on Sunday to try to break a stalemate, and government forces responded with heavy fire, while snipers shot at protesters from rooftops.

At least 30 people were killed on Monday, raising the death toll to 56 over two days. Among the dead was a journalist working for the Saudi channel al-Ikhbariya. A Reuters witness said he was shot in the face. The government reported two deaths among its soldiers on Monday.

Witnesses said government forces had traded heavy rifle and missile fire with troops loyal to Mohsen, who defected following an earlier crackdown in March which killed 52 people.

An escalation into outright military confrontation in Sanaa has been a major concern for many in Yemen, who fear this will make it even harder to reach a political settlement under which Saleh would step down, in theory paving the way for elections.

"Help me, oh my God look at this slaughter!" said a man carrying the bloodied body of his small child, killed by gunfire. "We were just in the car ... I stepped out to get some food and left my two boys in the car. I heard the older one scream. My little one was shot straight through the head."   Continued...

Anti-government protesters carry a fellow protester injured during clashes with security forces in Sanaa September 19, 2011.  REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.