May 13, 2009 / 3:04 PM / 11 years ago

Al Qaeda calls for Islamic rule after Yemen violence

* Three killed in shootout

* Fears grow that country could split

By Inal Ersan

DUBAI, May 13 (Reuters) - Al Qaeda called on Wednesday for Islamic rule in Yemen and vowed to retaliate for what it said was the killing of civilians in clashes between police and locals in the south, where secessionist sentiment is strong.

The country in the Arabian Peninsula is trying to shake off an image of violence and lawlessness to promote tourism and foreign investment. It is battling al Qaeda, separatist calls in the south and Shi’ite rebels in the north.

"The time for the rule of Islam has come so that you could bask in the justice and tolerance it brings," Abu Basir Nasser al-Wahayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, said in a recording posted on an Islamist website on Wednesday. "The injustice that befell you, God willing, will not pass without punishment. The killing of Muslims in the streets is a great crime that has no justification."

Wahayshi’s remarks coincided with a rare call by the U.S. embassy in recent weeks for parties to act to keep Yemen united.

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

Demonstrations over army pensions turned violent in Aden in 2007 and job protests in the south degenerated into riots last year. Some southern leaders have openly called for secession. [ID:nL5593930]

Three people were killed on Wednesday in a shootout between police and guards of al-Ayam newspaper, one of several newspapers the government has suspended and accused of seeking to divide the country, witnesses said.

The police were trying to arrest the editor of the publication over a case involving a house he owned in the capital Sanaa where a man had been killed, a Yemeni news website reported, citing Aden police officials.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh called on Yemenis earlier this month to hold a dialogue to maintain national unity following a a week of clashes in the south between the police and locals.

"As far as we are concerned, Ali Abdullah Saleh is an infidel and an agent ... and today he is using all forms of oppression with the pretext of preserving unity," said Wahayshi.

Saleh, who took power in the former North Yemen in 1978 and has been president since union with the south in 1990, has backed U.S. moves to crack down on al Qaeda after the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities.

Neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, has said it fears instability in Yemen could allow it to hold a dialogue to maintain unity in the troubled country, but told them that Western and regional powers oppose secessionist moves.

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. (For questions and answers on Yemen, click on [ID:nL5593930] ) (Additional reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaff in Aden and Lin Noueihed in Dubai; editing by Andrew Roche)

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