Yemen still beset by violence

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The Independent Online

Violence threatened a return to chaos in Yemen today with at least six people killed after a day of jubilation over the departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The situation threatened to unravel further with Mr Saleh's absence. A deep power vacuum has arisen after three months of largely peaceful protests seeking his removal turned violent in the last two weeks. Powerful opposition tribal figures took up arms in a bid to end the president's nearly 33 years in power.

Mr Saleh flew to Saudi Arabia for surgery shortly after its King Abdullah brokered a cease-fire late on Saturday. The truce held for just hours.

In the latest violence, the office of powerful opposition tribal leader Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar said three of his supporters were shot dead in the tense Hassaba district in the north of the capital Sanaa.

Three other shootings occurred late on Sunday. A defecting military official said gunmen opened fire on their checkpoint.

The killings belied an offer by the acting president - vice president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi - to withdraw government forces from the area. It has seen some heaviest fighting in Yemen's four months upheaval.

Government officials said Mr Hadi was meeting again with security officials in an attempt to arranged a cease-fire that would hold.

Checkpoints were spread all along the road leading to the Hassaba neighbourhood, which has been virtually a closed military area since May 23 as intense fighting broke out in the district.

Residents trying to return to their homes were fired on by rooftop snipers and forced to flee yet again.

Regardless of joyous celebrations, many Yemenis feared Mr Saleh, a masterful political survivor, would yet return - or leave the country in ruins if he cannot. Hanging in the balance was a country that even before the latest tumult was beset by deep poverty, malnutrition, tribal conflict and violence by an active al Qaida franchise with international reach.

Mr Saleh underwent successful surgery on his chest to remove shrapnel after his compound was hit by rockets on Friday. He was being treated in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

Yemen's unrest began as a peaceful protest movement that the government at times used brutal force to suppress, killing at least 166 people, according to Human Rights Watch. It transformed in the past two weeks into armed conflict after the president's forces attacked the home of a key tribal leader and one-time ally who threw his support behind the uprising. The fighting turned the streets of the capital into a war zone.