Eight killed in clashes near Yemen Interior Ministry

SANAA Tue Jul 31, 2012 8:20am EDT

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SANAA (Reuters) - Eight people were killed in fighting on Tuesday between Yemeni government forces and armed tribesmen loyal to former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh who were trying to storm the Interior Ministry in the capital Sanaa, a medical source said.

Many other people were wounded in what was some of the heaviest fighting in the capital since Saleh signed a deal to relinquish power last year after months of protests against his 33-year rule, the source said.

Security forces regained control of the situation, a government source said. A Reuters witness saw three armored vehicles and soldiers guarding the entrance to the ministry.

The showdown highlighted ongoing instability in Yemen five months after Saleh was replaced as president by his deputy under a plan designed to end the political upheaval that severely weakened government control over parts of the country.

Dozens of tribesmen exchanged fire with security forces during their second attempt at seizing the ministry in just three days, to demand jobs in the police force.

The tribesmen say they were promised jobs in reward for siding with Saleh during the uprising that eventually unseated him.

On Sunday, around 100 tribesmen occupied the ministry, vacating it on Monday after officials promised to heed their demands.

It was not clear whether those killed on Tuesday were tribesmen or government forces.

The ministry storming is the latest challenge for President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi who is trying to restructure the armed forces and restore a semblance of normality to the impoverished country where Saleh's shadow still looms large.

Tribal traditions are strong in Yemen, at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, where chiefs who command thousands of fighters often pledge loyalty to one political leader or another. Many tribal fighters sided with Saleh who was toppled by a popular uprising.

Tribesmen have fought alongside government troops in a U.S.-backed offensive against al Qaeda-linked militants that drove insurgents out of several towns in the south of the country last month.

Tribesmen were also behind the kidnapping of an Italian embassy security officer on Sunday, the Interior Ministry said.

A Yemeni official said the governor of the oil-producing province of Maarib, where the Carabinieri officer is being held, was mediating with the abductors for his release.

Disgruntled tribesmen often bomb oil and gas pipelines and kidnap foreigners as a way to press demands on authorities. The kidnapees are usually freed unharmed.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Rania El Gamal and Isabel Coles; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Robin Pomeroy)

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