Fighting continues as Yemen cabinet meets

YEMEN’S new unity government, formed to try to avert civil war, met for the first time yesterday, hours after a soldier was killed in continuing clashes between supporters and opponents of outgoing president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Vice president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to whom Saleh transferred his powers under a deal brokered by Yemen’s Gulf neighbours, chaired the meeting of the new cabinet, which includes opposition figures.

The government faces a host of challenges including sporadic fighting with anti-Saleh tribesmen, a southern separatist movement, a Shia Muslim rebellion in the north and a regional wing of al-Qaeda that has exploited the upheaval to strengthen its foothold in an impoverished nation which sits close to key shipping routes.

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Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia shares western fears that more instability in Yemen could embolden al-Qaeda there. America has used drones to attack al-Qaeda targets in Yemen.

Late on Friday, a soldier was killed in fighting between government forces and opponents of Saleh on the streets of the capital Sanaa.

The violence near government buildings and the compound of Sadeq al-Ahmar, a foe of Saleh who commands significant forces, was the latest challenge to the transition plan after ten months of bloody anti-Saleh protests.

The defence ministry on its website accused the Ahmar tribesmen of attacks in northern neighbourhood of Hasab “derailing efforts towards establishing security and stability in the capital and other areas”. The opposition, in turn, accused the Republican Guard – a body headed by one of Saleh’s sons – of breaking a truce and firing artillery at northern districts of the capital yesterday, wounding at least one person.

On Friday, forces loyal to Saleh and opposition gunmen withdrew from the streets of the city of Taiz, defusing clashes that threatened to wreck the deal, which Saleh signed last month to relinquish power after 33 years at the helm.

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