Yemen forces disperse rally over suspended paper

ADEN, Yemen Sun Jul 12, 2009 3:25pm EDT

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ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) - Yemeni forces dispersed on Sunday a rally of 200 people in Aden protesting the suspension of a newspaper which the government accuses of seeking to divide the Arabian peninsula country, witnesses said.

Yemen, which has been battling a wave of al Qaeda attacks, has witnessed sporadic clashes between police and locals in southern towns where secessionist sentiment is strong.

People in the south, home to most of Yemen's oil facilities, have long complained that northerners abused the unity agreement to grab their resources and discriminate against them.

The Yemen News website said about 15 of the al-Ayam newspaper employees were arrested in the rally.

Security forces blocked access routes to the protest area and barred gatherings of more than two people, they said.

Yemen suspended a number of newspapers in May after accusing them of seeking to divide the country amid a rise in secessionist sentiment in the south.

Information Minister Hasan Ahmad al-Lawzi said in May that his ministry had acted against the dailies al-Ayam, al-Masdar, al-Nida, al-Diyar, al-Sharea and the weekly al-Watani for publishing articles "against national unity."

The ministry had asked the state prosecutor to investigate the newspapers and to bring those responsible to justice.

Neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, has said it fears instability in Yemen could allow it to become a launch pad for a revival of a 2003-2006 campaign by al Qaeda militants to destabilize the U.S.-allied ruling Al Saud family.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh took power in the former North Yemen in 1978 and has been president since the merger with the south in 1990. He won another seven-year term in 2006.

Saleh backed U.S. moves to crack down on al Qaeda, including inside Yemen, after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

Insecurity in Yemen has affected international companies developing the oil and gas sector, while attacks on foreigners -- including kidnappings by disgruntled tribesmen -- have hit tourism, Western diplomats say.

(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaff; Writing by Inal Ersan; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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