YEMEN ON ALERT OVER REBEL SUPPORTERS’ PROTESTS

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SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Tanks and armored vehicles deployed in Yemen’s capital Tuesday in the face of protests by tens of thousands of supporters of Shiite rebels who are demanding the government step down.

Protesters were responding to a call by Abdel-Malek al-Hawthi, the top leader of the heavily armed Hawthi group that overran northern cities. He has given the government until Friday to meet their demands of reinstating fuel subsidies and relinquishing power.

Military officials said that Yemen’s elite “Presidential Forces” were on standby in case of any attack, taking positions near government buildings, foreign missions and main intersections. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

Yemen’s Supreme Security Committee, its most senior security body, warned Tuesday it will take “all measures to ensure the safety and security of the country.”

The committee listed what it said were “worrying signs” of militiamen deploying on rooftops in some areas of the capital, Sanaa, as well as armed Hawthi convoys entering the capital and setting up checkpoints,

Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi said in televised remarks during a government emergency meeting that he would take “decisive and legal action” against anyone disrupting the country’s security, describing the demonstrations as “unacceptable.”

Ten of Yemen’s Western and international allies said in a joint statement that the Hawthi moves were “antagonistic, militaristic and disrespectful.”

“Threats of the kind you have made against the government are not a way to demonstrate any validity of your claims,” said the statement posted on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa. It called upon Hawthis to withdraw from the capital and hand over their weapons.

“Any action aimed to incite or provoke unrest and violence is unacceptable, and will be strongly condemned by the international community,” said the statement, signed by “The Group of Ten Ambassadors,” in reference to the countries which backed the power-transfer deal that saw former President Ali Abdullah Saleh relinquish power after a yearlong uprising in 2011.

Hawthi spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Salam criticized the envoys’ message, saying the group rejects the “foreign mandate” and vowed to continue “our blessed revolution peacefully.”

The Hawthis waged a six-year insurgency in the north against Saleh, which officially ended in 2010. After Saleh’s ouster, they have fought ultraconservative Islamists in several northern cities and towns, accusing them of turning their strongholds into incubators of extremism.

WHY YEMEN IS NOT A MODEL FOR IRAQ

Anti-government protesters in 2011.

Anti-government protesters in 2011. (Ahmed Jadallah / Courtesy Reuters)
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By Farea Al-muslimi | Foreign Affairs
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Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama suggested that Yemen could be an example for how to bring stability to Iraq. “You look at a country like Yemen — a very impoverished country and one that has its own sectarian or ethnic divisions,” he said. “There, we do have a committed partner in President [Abdu Rabbu Mansour] Hadi and his government.” His comments came as a shock to most Yemenis. The contradiction between their country’s political reality and its reputation as an Arab Spring success story has always been glaring, but now it had become absurd.

Just days before Obama spoke, demonstrations — which were largely ignored by the international media, since few foreign journalists are allowed into country these days — had broken out in the capital. Angry protesters shut down Sanaa’s main streets, burning tires and shouting chants against the transitional government and against Hadi, the man who heads it. Yemenis, it seemed, had simply snapped under the strain of severe fuel shortages, kilometer-long lines at gas stations, and 20-hour electricity blackouts.

On the same day as the protests, the UN held a conference in Beirut between Yemen’s new power brokers and its old elite. During the meeting, the country’s progress — specifically on inclusivity and stability — was widely praised. But the truth is that the internationally backed 2011 deal that transferred power away from Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled since 1978, was a rotten one. It merely handed the presidency over to his deputy, Hadi, and ensured that Saleh would continue to play a role behind the scenes. He was also given immunity for all his wrongdoing during his 33 years in power. And that is not the same thing as democracy. Even worse, the deal made a real transition to democracy in Yemen all the harder and it sowed the seeds of new conflicts.

One of the deal’s key promises to the tens of thousands of pro-democracy activists who took to the streets to bring down Saleh was to hold the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). It was supposed to bring together all the political factions, from the southern separatist movement to young modernizers to negotiate an outline for Yemen’s future political structure; and put the outcome of these negotiations to a public referendum for approval. However, the NDC, held from March 2013 to January 2014, did very little beyond extending the terms of parliament (whose mandate expired in 2008) and the president (whose democratic legitimacy consists of a hastily rushed-through referendum on his serving one term in office). The NDC then ignored its own bylaws and refused to put these decisions to a public vote.

As a result, the number of elected officials in Yemen was effectively set at zero, a swindle that was backed by the entire international community. World leaders continued to praise the conference, and support it financially and politically, even as it became clear that the NDC was not going to deliver on its promises.

These days, any attempts to scrutinize the government are blocked by the argument that it is a government of national consensus, and therefore untouchable. In turn, corruption has only risen. In 2013, Yemen’s ranking on Transparency International’s corruption index jumped to 167 out of 177 countries. In 2012, it stood at 156. Simply put, it is impossible to hold any official in Yemen — from the most powerful to the least — accountable. At the same time, the security establishment, which is beholden to the old regime and its successor, has launched a massive war against freedom of press. It has harassed, imprisoned, and deported over a dozen local and international reporters. It has also banned and harassed several media outlets, such as the Yemen Today television channel. Protests are denounced as expression of support for the old regime.

And the situation gets worse from there: In the north and south of the country, there continue to be full-blown uprisings against the current regime. But instead of calming the regions by offering transparency and inclusivity, the NDC simply turned in to a vehicle for co-opting a cherry-picked selection of clubbable leaders from among the insurgents. Such contempt in a country where, according to UNOCHA, nearly 15 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance has helped the armed groups’ propaganda to no end. The security situation is now so dire that military officers have begun to disguise themselves in public for fear of assassination.

In early July, one group, the powerful armed Houthi rebels, seized the governorate of Ammran outside the capital, capturing dozens of tanks and heavy guns. The rebels killed the highest military commander in the governorate, who is loyal to the Islamists, one of the Houthi’s opponents. Their siege of the city forced more than 30,000 to flee their homes. If the NDC had not handpicked selected Houthis as interlocutors, which increased their power but not their accountability, and had instead pursued a genuine democratic, peace settlement, the insurgency would be weaker today.

It has become increasingly clear that the transition deal has cost Yemen dearly. Yemenis live in a land of fear and intimidation, petrol queues and hunger, violence and corruption. For them, Obama’s reference to Yemen seemed like a bad joke at best, and an insensitive insult at worst. And it must have been all the more troubling for Iraqis. A few years ago in Yemen, people used to warn of an “Iraq scenario” if its problems weren’t addressed, meaning that Yemen would be the new Iraq. They don’t anymore. People in Yemen have recognized what Obama does not: that it is by now the Yemen scenario that should serve as a warning, not a solution, to Iraq. Just like risky experiments on television, the Yemen model shouldn’t be tried at home.

NEW CEASEFIRE IN NORTHERN YEMEN AFTER FRESH AIR STRIKES

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SANAA (Reuters) – A ceasefire between Shi’ite Muslim rebels and government forces went into effect on Wednesday, the Yemeni Defence Ministry said, after fresh fighting and air strikes killed a total of 19 people from both sides.

Nearly 140 people have died in three days of fighting near the town of Omran, where government forces and allied Sunni Muslim tribesmen have been trying to hold back the powerful rebel militia from capturing the city for nearly two months.

U.S.-allied Yemen, an impoverished country of 25 million that shares a long and porous border with the world’s top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, has been in turmoil since 2011, when mass protests forced long-ruling president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

The fighting in northern Yemen, which had taken on a sectarian tone, has further unsettled a country struggling to overcome many problems.

The Defence Ministry said the agreement, which calls for deploying neutral observers to monitor the truce, had taken effect from 1200 (0900 GMT).

It also called on both sides to stop sending reinforcements to Omran, withdraw from the central prison and open the main road between Omran and the capital Sanaa.

The agreement came after the fighting which began earlier this week intensified with the Yemeni army using the air force to deliver deadly strikes on Houthi rebel positions in Omran.

Ahmed al-Bekry, deputy governor of Omran province, said on Tuesday that more than 100 rebels and about 20 government soldiers had died in fighting and in air strikes on Houthi positions the day before.

PROPOSED CEASEFIRE

Hours before the ceasefire went into effect, Houthi fighters killed five government soldiers in clashes outside the city of Omran, according to Houthi rebels, who also said that 40 government troops surrendered to the group.

The Yemeni air force responded with air strikes and killed at least 15 fighters, local tribal chiefs said.

The groups’ top leader, Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, proposed a ceasefire on Tuesday night and offered to free 100 government soldiers held by the group as part of an agreement with the Defence Ministry that would guarantee the safety and security of Omran’s inhabitants.

“We are willing to cooperate in a manner that would serve security and stability,” Abdel-Malik said in the statement.

The Houthis blame elements of the Sunni Muslim Islah party in the military and in the Omran regional administration for the fighting.

Government officials say the Houthis, who have been fighting government forces sporadically since 2004, are trying to tighten their grip on the north before next year’s election, as Yemen considers moving to a system of greater autonomy for its various regions.

As well as the fighting in Omran, where the Shi’ite tribal militia is trying to cement its control over the northern highlands, Yemen is facing a threat from al Qaeda and a challenge from separatists in the south.

Clashes have repeatedly erupted in the past few months between government troops and Houthis – named after the Shi’ite tribe of the leaders of the rebellion – as Sanaa struggles to restore nationwide control.

DEADLY BLAST KILLS AT LEAST 10 YEMENI SOLDIERS

UK ARMS YEMEN, LIBYA, OTHER ‘HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSERS’

EUROPEAN UNION AND FRENCH POLITICIANS CONDEMN YEMEN KILLING OF FRENCHMAN

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One Frenchman was killed and another injured in an attack on a car in Sanaa the capital of Yemen.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has condemned the killing of the dead man who was working for the EU delegation, “in the strongest terms”.

The words were echoed by French president Francois Hollande. He said every effort would be made to catch the gunmen.

So far no group has claimed responsibility after a four-by-four vehicle without registration plates blocked the car.

“We heard the shooting and we ran to the scene where we found two Frenchmen wounded by unknown gunmen – we don’t know who is behind the attack,” said an eyewitness.

Monday’s killing comes after a German diplomat was wounded last month during what was believed to be an attempted kidnapping.

Yemen is home to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which authorities have blamed for a string of attacks on security forces.

The Yemeni army last week launched a major offensive in several militants strongholds.

U.S. UNLEASHES THREE DAYS OF DRONE STRIKES ON YEMEN, 55 KILLED

RT

Dozens are reportedly dead in Yemen, including at least three civilians, as the result of a series of drone strikes that started in the southern part of the country on Saturday and is alleged to still be occurring two days later.

By noontime in Washington, DC on Monday, the Associated Press reported that 55 Al-Qaeda militants were among those that had been killed in an hours-long series of strikes that targeted a training camp operated by the group, according to Yemen’s interior ministry. The United States is alleged to have carried out the strikes using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, but does not legally have to acknowledge any operations conducted by its Central Intelligence Agency and has not commented.

While reports consider the strikes carried out by US-operated drones, outlets like The Bureau of Investigative Journalism say that, as of early Monday evening EDT, it is ultimately unknown whether Yemen military forces were involved or if the attacks were indeed executed with unmanned drones. A“high-level Yemeni government official” told CNN the attacks were “a joint US-Yemeni operation.” He added that, “unfortunately, a civilian truck was also hit.”

Among the 55 believed to be killed in that series of strikes, the AP reported, were three senior but unnamed Al-Qaeda leaders. The AFP also corroborated that claim by reporting that witnesses on the scene in Shabwa province early Monday said three alleged militants were indeed killed when a missile struck the car the men were traveling in that morning.

At the same time on Monday, an anonymous Yemeni government official briefed on the strikes told CNN that the strikes had yet to cease and that at, by his count, at least 30 alleged militants had been killed. Statistics regarding the death toll remain fluid, but preliminary reports concerning the strikes suggest that the number of those killed since Saturday is in the dozen.

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Yemen’s Saba news agency reported that a drone strike in the central province of Bayda on Saturday killed 10 suspected militants and three civilians. A Yemeni military officials added to the AP that a car carrying the alleged militants was struck by a missile as it drove by a vehicle carrying civilians, and an eyewitness who survived the attack said a second strike occurred soon after. Three civilians were injured in addition to those slain in that attack, the AP reported. “Minutes after the first attack, a second attack took place, killing three of my friends,” eyewitness Salem al-Kashm told CNN after. “The drone then kept going in circles after the attack to ensure that none of the militants were able to escape.” On Sunday, US drones reportedly targeted an Al-Qaeda training camp in the nearby province of Abyan and killed another 30.

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Civilian deaths mount

The US has unofficially paused its drone strike campaign in Pakistan, as negotiations continue between the Pakistani Taliban and the nation’s government. Yet strikes in Yemen have not stalled – nor has the official secrecy of the US that has marked its drone operations there.

In December, a US drone strike killed 15 members of a wedding party, mistaking a procession of vehicles for a militant convoy. The group had been en route to the village of Qaifa, the site of the wedding, when it was hit. The assault left charred bodies strewn in the road and vehicles on fire, officials told AP.

In an unusual acknowledgement, the US said its military was responsible. Specifically, it was the Joint Special Operations Command, which, besides the CIA, is the only other entity using drones in Yemen. But after its own investigation of the incident, the US maintained that no civilians died in the strike.

Last October, Human Rights Watch released a damning report on US drone strikes in Yemen. It described six of the total of some 80 targeted killing operations in the country. In those six attacks, 82 people were killed, 57 of whom – or practically 70 percent – were civilians.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which diligently analyzes each US drone strike, has confirmed that drones have killed as many as 451 people in Yemen, including as many as 82 civilians. “Possible” – though unconfirmed – strikes have killed as many as 545 people total and as many as 45 civilians, the Bureau says.

Yet the US strike policy is so broad that it considers any military-age male in a strike zone as a combatant, especially if he is armed. Thus, even by the strictest standards, there are likely many more civilians who have died but were considered fighters or militants.

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In addition to the high civilian casualty rates, critics say these drone strike policies are done in violation of international law, and question whether the Obama administration has the authority to sanction the killings without a court warrant. One particular practice denounced by human rights activists is the use of so-called ‘signature strikes,’ in which a drone attack is launched based not on the identification of known Al-Qaeda fighters, but on the behavior of people. In May 2013, amid criticism about US drone strikes overseas, President Obama said in a policy speech that “before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured,”adding that this is “the highest possible standard.” Though the latest strikes, among others, have caused analysts to question whether the Obama administration’s supposed “new rules” for strikes are consistent at all. Yemen is considered to be the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)’s main foothold of what is deemed the most active wing of the militant network. The Yemeni government has asked the US for assistance in fighting terror threats, yet the entirety of negotiations between the US and Yemen is unknown. Critics maintain that the drone strikes program in the country has done nothing to stem the growth of Al-Qaeda, and has even increased support for the terror network.

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