Aden, Yemen, May 4 – Three people were killed on Sunday in clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters in southern Yemen, where separatist sentiment is strong, officials and witnesses said.
The clashes, which have persisted for several days, prompted a rare call by the United States for an end to the violence it said could undermine the impoverished country’s unity.
Neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, fears instability in Yemen could allow it to become a launchpad for a revival of a 2003-2006 campaign by al Qaeda fighters to topple the U.S.-allied ruling Al Saud family.
Officials said opposition groups killed two civilians and wounded 20 in protests in the Raffan district of Lahej province near Aden in the south. A member of the opposition Socialist Party said locals were defending themselves from government shelling of villages and farmland. One protester died in Dalea when a grenade exploded in what appeared to be an accident.
Independent daily al-Ayyam said a man was shot dead on Saturday and four wounded in clashes in Habilain, where three died last month after locals objected to new army outposts.
Bashrahil Hisham Bashrahil, manager of the group that publishes al-Ayyam, said the authorities confiscated copies of the paper early on Sunday and detained some employees.
He said in a statement the Aden-based paper had faced government pressure in recent weeks over photographs of clashes.
Yemen is battling regular attacks by al Qaeda guerrillas and a Zaydi Shi’ite resistance in the north and struggling to balance its authority with the fierce independence of some tribes.
The government website “September 26” reported on Sunday that a suspected militant from al Qaeda called Ahmed al-Matghish accidently blew himself up while preparing explosives in Abyan province in the south. He was on a wanted list.
Clashes broke out a week ago at an opposition rally to mark the 1994 civil war, in which forces commanded by Yemeni President Ali Adbullah Saleh crushed the secessionist south.
The separate states of North and South Yemen united under a fragile political agreement in 1990 but residents in the south, home to most of the country’s oil facilities, continue to complain that they are marginalised.
Yemen is also a player in international efforts to stop piracy. Somali pirates have hijacked ships passing through the Gulf of Aden, a key shipping lane for oil and cargo, making millions of dollars and causing U.S. and other governments to send patrol ships to the area.
“The United States embassy in Sana’a views with concern reports of increasing incidences of political violence in southern regions of Yemen. The United States supports a stable, unified, democratic Yemen,” a U.S. embassy statement said.
“We call on the Yemeni government, the political parties, civil society organisations and all concerned citizens of Yemen to engage in dialogue to identify and address legitimate grievances.”
Yemen, the ancestral home of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, joined the U.S. war against terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.