Three killed in assassination attempt on Yemeni rebel negotiator

SANAA Sat Mar 23, 2013 9:51am EDT

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SANAA (Reuters) - Gunmen shot dead three people in a failed attempt to assassinate a Houthi rebel leader on Saturday after he left Yemen's "national dialogue" talks aimed at ending political turmoil in the country, sources at the talks said.

Abdo Abu Ras, the Houthis' representative at the negotiations, was returning by car to his hotel in the capital Sanaa when gunmen opened fire, killing three of his companions, the sources said.

Impoverished Yemen faces two rebellions and a separatist movement. Washington fears it may become a failed state after President Ali Abdullah Saleh was unseated last year following "Arab spring" protests.

Lawless parts of the country bordering top oil producer Saudi Arabia play host to an al Qaeda affiliate seen in the United States as the movement's most dangerous wing.

The Houthi rebels, who advocate a bigger role for Zaydi Shi'ite Muslims in the north of Yemen, have been fighting the government since 2004 and form one of several rival groups taking part in the talks.

"The aim (of the assassination attempt) was to push us to withdraw from the dialogue, but we will not do so," said Abdulkarim Jadban, a leader of the group.

"What we fear is that there will (also) be a plot to target the southerners to make them withdraw from participating in the conference."

Separatists who want to revive a defunct socialist state in the south are taking part in the talks, as are leaders of the 2011 street protests, Saleh's General People's Congress party and the Islah party, representing Islamist and tribal groups.

President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's transitional two-year government, whose term ends after elections next February, is also battling an insurgency by Islamists in parts of southern Yemen. Those militants are not taking part in the talks.

The fractured nature of the country's politics, as well as competing tribal and regional loyalties, complicate the talks' goals of drafting a new constitution and reuniting the army after it split into rival forces two years ago.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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