West to boost aid to Yemen in face of al-Qa'ida threat

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President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen has undergone quite a transformation since Saddam Hussein presented him with a gold-plated AK-47 for his support in the first Gulf War.

Now an enthusiastic convert to the US-led "war on terror", President Saleh will today attend a London donors' conference at which he hopes to raise more than $5bn (£2.6bn) to help Yemen fight poverty.

Britain, which contributes £10m per year to help Yemen meet international poverty targets, will raise its aid to £50m per year by 2011 - an increase of 400 per cent - the International Development minister Gareth Thomas said yesterday.

The West is acting to bolster the Yemeni government, which has carried out democratic reforms under President Saleh, in order to prevent Yemen becoming a failed state, said Mamoun Fandy, an analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"Yemen can go two ways. It can either spiral into a Somalia, or donors can prop up the government to make sure its policies won't feed into the message of al-Qa'ida," he said.

The government this week vowed to strike terrorists with "an iron fist" after a group calling itself al-Qa'ida in Yemen claimed responsibility for an attempted suicide attack two months ago on oil facilities.

"They can't afford to have a failed state on the border of Saudi Arabia," Mr Fandy said.

Mr Thomas, who visited Yemen last week, said that despite being an oil-producing country, oil stocks are expected to run out by 2015, and Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world.

"If more aid is not forthcoming, then Yemen has little hope of helping millions of its people, who barely survive on less than $1 a day, out of poverty," Mr Thomas said.

Britain hopes that wealthy Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, as well as the European Commission and World Bank, will donate generously.

The aid is to be spent on basic services including education for girls, and on combating the effects of climate change, which has caused serious water shortages.