Yemeni protesters killed as Saleh's troops storm their camp with tanks

Yemen's security forces stormed an anti-regime protest camp in the southern city of Taiz yesterday, killing at least 20 people in the second bloodiest day of the four-month uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh's rule.

The raid coincided with the bombing of a southern provincial town that had fallen to Islamist militants, bolstering the embattled president's claim that al-Qa'ida is poised to exploit the vacuum that his departure would leave.

On Sunday night, security forces moved in on the protesters' camp in Taiz's Freedom Square, focal point for anti-government demonstrations, deploying water cannons and tear gas.

Tanks and bulldozers then razed tents, setting them alight, eyewitnesses said. Soldiers also knocked down a field hospital and seized a nearby hotel, snipers using the rooftops to fire on the demonstrators.

Protesters described horrific scenes, with one claiming he had seen a tent ablaze with its terrified occupants inside unable to escape. Boushra al-Maqtari, one of the organisers of the protests, called it a "massacre", saying the many wounded had been dragged off to detention centres. Others claimed police had removed several of the dead bodies, suggesting the actual death toll could be much higher.

The brutal assault comes just days after the capital, Sanaa, erupted in ferocious street clashes after efforts by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to oversee the resignation of Mr Saleh collapsed. Five days of street battles ensued, killing 124 people.

Since protests first broke out in late January, Mr Saleh has generally refrained from the all-out violence against protesters seen elsewhere in the Middle East. Nevertheless, some 50 protesters were killed by snipers on 18 March in Sanaa, prompting a spate of defections among Mr Saleh's allies.

Mr Saleh has reneged on promises to step down, presenting himself as the only leader able to stop Yemen from falling into the hands of al-Qa'ida. Yesterday Yemeni fighter jets pounded the coastal town of Zinjibar, seized by Islamist militants a few days ago, in a bid to retake control. Ground forces also battled with the militants and at least six soldiers were killed by rocket-propelled grenades and an ambush on a convoy.

Different opposition groups have accused Mr Saleh of deliberately allowing the town to fall to Islamist militants, allowing him to use the spectre of the al-Qa'ida threat to cling on to power. Since a daring jail break by militants five years ago, al-Qa'ida in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) has flourished in the lawless hinterlands of southern and eastern Yemen, and has been identified by the US as the single biggest threat to its domestic security.

It remained unclear if the militants were part of AQAP, with local residents saying the militants called themselves Ansar al-Sharia. Yemen scholar Gregory Johnsen tweeted that AQAP had taken to calling itself by that name, although Yemen-based al-Qa'ida experts said it was unlikely that AQAP would seize a town, thus presenting itself as a large target for air strikes.

Mr Saleh has attracted billions of dollars in US aid in his efforts to fight AQAP, and initially Washington refrained from criticising him, seeing him as a critical ally in the fight against global terrorism. But in recent weeks, the Obama administration has dropped its support for the Yemeni leader, instead backing efforts to secure his resignation in return for immunity.

Yesterday, Yemeni forces were also searching for three French aid workers who went missing in the desert province of Hawdramut at the weekend. It has not been confirmed if they were kidnapped, but the French foreign ministry said it was looking more likely after their car was found yesterday.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
science
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links