x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Yemenis pay tribute in their thousands to the dead as violence escalates

GCC steps in again but rival factions are not ready for a deal as fresh fighting breaches truce agreed only a day earlier.

SANAA // Government forces killed nine people and wounded 16 others yesterday as tens of thousands of people held a mass funeral in central Sanaa for the 30 anti-government protesters killed since Sunday.

Medics and activists said the government shelled part of Change Square, where protesters have camped out since February to demand the removal of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president. The funeral took place near the square, while gunfire was also heard in heavily populated areas around the protest camp where dozens of snipers were seen on rooftops.

The fighting breached a ceasefire negotiated by the country's vice president, Abdurabu Mansur Hadi, and western ambassadors on Tuesday to end a deadly bout of violence between government forces and the troops of the rebel First Armoured Division led by Major General Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar. More than 85 people have been killed and more than 900 injured in Sanaa and elsewhere in Yemen this week.

Hussein Al Madhaji, a resident in the area, said: "This is a terrible situation. We were relieved only for hours only as the truce was announced but now gunfire and shelling is back. Where shall we go?"

Maj Gen Al Ahmar accused the government of breaking the truce yesterday.

"We call on the mediators and the vice president to take their responsibility and control this gang and stop their unruly behaviour," he said in a statement, adding that his forces respect of the ceasefire should not be taken as a sign of weakness.

Mr Hadi met yesterday with Jamal Benomar, the UN envoy, and Abdulatif Al Zayani, the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

"Yemen is on a crossroad today and there can be no solution only through dialogue," the state news agency Saba quoted Mr Hadi as saying during a meeting with Mr Al Zayani.

The GCC official left Yemen yesterday saying the sides were not ready to reach an agreement on the GCC initiative.

That plan, proposed last spring, called on Mr Saleh to step down and hand over the presidency to Mr Hadi. In return, Mr Saleh and his family would receive immunity from prosecution.

Mr Hadi was authorised this month by Mr Saleh, who is in Saudi Arabia recovering from injuries he sustained in an attack on the presidential palace in June, to negotiate a power transfer.

Mr Saleh had come close to signing a GCC deal several times, only to pull back at the last minute. Mr Al Zayani's visit to Yemen was aimed at determining "the possibility into the details of the Gulf initiative", Saba quoted him as saying.

A government official said that Yemen's ruling party, the General Peoples Congress, and Mr Saleh's relatives insisted that the president should call an early election without transferring power to his deputy. However, the opposition want both to be done at the same time.


* With additional reporting by the Associated Press