Heavy fighting in Yemen after U.N. resolution

SANAA Sat Oct 22, 2011 1:14pm EDT

1 of 2. A Yemeni anti-government protester, with the colours of the Kingdom of Libya flag painted on his face, stands in Taghyeer (Change) Square where protesters are camping to demand the ouster Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa October 22, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

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SANAA (Reuters)- At least 10 people were killed in fighting between Yemeni government forces and opposition fighters in the capital Sanaa on Saturday, residents and witnesses said.

The Yemeni government said it was ready to "deal positively" with a resolution approved by the U.N. Security Council on Friday that urged President Ali Abdullah Saleh to sign a deal requiring him to step down in exchange for immunity.

It also condemned the Yemeni government's crackdown on protesters demanding that Saleh end his 33 years in office.

A spokesman for Yemeni opposition parties and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which has been trying to mediate an end to the crisis in Yemen, welcomed the resolution.

Residents said five civilians and five opposition soldiers were killed and dozens were wounded in the clashes.

Rocket propelled grenades, mortars and automatic weapons were used in the al-Hasaba, Soufan and al-Nahda neighborhoods in the north of the city, where members of a breakaway military force opposed to Saleh and tribal fighters are based.

They said at least five people were killed in overnight clashes between forces loyal to Saleh and soldiers led by Ali Mohsen al-Ahmer, a general who broke ranks with Saleh after protesters began almost daily demonstrations in February. Gunmen loyal to tribal leader Sadeq al-Ahmar were also involved in the fighting.

Witnesses said thick, black smoke rose over the neighborhoods and that many buildings had been destroyed. Yemeni officials said government forces retook the upper house of parliament (Shura Council) building in northern Sanaa, after it was occupied by opposition troops.

In a statement issued on Friday night, General al-Ahmar's Free Yemen Army accused Saleh of ordering an attack on northern Sanaa neighborhoods the previous night. He said that attack had lasted for more than 20 hours and had killed 21 people, including eight civilians and 13 soldiers.

The Yemeni government says al-Ahmar's forces started the fighting.

U.N. RESOLUTION

Saleh says he will only hand over power into "safe hands."

Responding to the decision made by the U.N. Security Council, a Yemeni government source said Sanaa remained committed to the Gulf peace plan, and called for international help to ensure its implementation.

"The government of the Republic of Yemeni is willing to deal positively with U.N. Security Council resolution 2014, for it conforms with the Yemeni government efforts to put an end to the political crisis on the basis of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative," a Yemeni government source said in a statement obtained by Reuters.

Saleh has backed down three times from signing the Gulf initiative, which came following months of protests.

The statement urged Gulf Arab states, Europe and other members of the international community to help resume talks between the Yemeni government and opposition parties to agree on a mechanism for implementing the GCC accord.

Mohammed Qahtani, a spokesman for an alliance of opposition political parties called the resolution a good first move and said the alliance was ready to help see it implemented.

"It is a step in the right direction, and we welcome it," Qahtani told Reuters.

Gulf news agencies quoted GCC Secretary-General Abdulattif al-Zayani as saying that Gulf Arab states were ready to help to overcome the crisis.

Amnesty International praised the U.N. Security Council efforts but said: "Saleh must not be given immunity as a prize for stepping down."

The United States fears that further violence in Yemen will embolden Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to launch strikes on the region and beyond.

(Writing by Sami Aboudi; editing by Rosalind Russell)

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