ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) - A separatist was shot dead by security forces in southern Yemen Thursday as he tried to remove a Yemeni flag from a state building and hoist that of the south, an official said, in a move that could fan hostilities.
Violence also flared in Yemen’s capital, where authorities arrested 11 suspected al Qaeda members in sweeps that sparked a gunfight which killed the father of a suspected militant.
In the south, where tensions have escalated in recent weeks, secessionist demonstrators forced their way into a government building in Lahej province, and one protester was killed when security forces tried to disperse them, a local official said.
“The protester was trying to take down the flag of Yemen and raise the flag of the south ... He was shot dead,” he said, adding three others were hurt in the clashes in al-Habilayn.
Tensions between Yemeni security forces and southern secessionists protesting against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh have been on the rise in recent weeks, accompanied by widespread arrests and deaths on both sides.
North and South Yemen formally united in 1990 but many in the south, where most of impoverished Yemen’s oil facilities are located, complain northerners have used unification to seize resources and discriminate against them.
Yemen became a major Western security concern after the Yemen-based regional arm of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane in December.
Western allies and neighboring oil exporter Saudi Arabia fear al Qaeda is exploiting Yemen’s instability to recruit and train militants for attacks in the region and beyond.
Analysts say the government is using the battle against al Qaeda to turn on its other opponents in the country.
Adding to the southern tension, the exiled former president of South Yemen, Ali Salem al-Beidh, said Thursday that a well-known tribal leader, currently allied with secessionists, had been barred from leaving his home in Zinjibar in the south.
“For three days a large contingent from the occupying forces has laid siege to the house of Tareq al-Fadhli ... to weaken him physically and to destroy the house around those inside it,” Beidh, who lives in Germany, said in an emailed statement.
“I call on all sons of the south ... to come to the aid of Fadhli and go to Zinjibar and lift the siege,” he said.
Zinjibar is also where at least four people were killed in a gunbattle with security forces last week, including Ali al-Yafie, a separatist the government said was suspected of links to al Qaeda. Al Jazeera TV said his wife had also died.
Two soldiers were killed when their vehicle overturned as they chased separatists with whom they had exchanged fire in the southern province of Shabwa, residents said.
Beidh was quoted as saying Wednesday that the unification of north and south Yemen had failed, and accused the government of using violence he said was provoking separatists.
In Sanaa, security forces arrested 11 suspected al Qaeda members in raids that sparked a gunfight which killed the father of a suspected militant, state media said.
As security forces raided a number of houses in the capital Wednesday, the father of one of the suspects opened fire, injuring one soldier, state media said.
The father died in a shootout that followed, the Defense Ministry’s online newspaper reported.
In addition to fighting al Qaeda, impoverished Yemen is also trying to bring an end to a northern Shi’ite insurgency.
Last month, the government declared a truce in a long-running conflict with the Shi’ite rebels, but analysts say it was only a matter of time before fighting starts again as the rebels’ grievances have not been adequately addressed.
Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Mohamed Sudam in Sanaa, writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; editing by Philippa Fletcher