Bodies lay in the streets of a southern Yemeni town as government forces battled Islamist militants, a local official said, underscoring the gravity of Yemen’s multiple conflicts.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh, 69, wounded on June 3 when rockets hit his palace, is undergoing treatment in the Saudi capital Riyadh but there were conflicting reports about his condition – ranging from fairly minor, to life-threatening 40-percent burns.
A truce between his forces and tribesmen who back pro-democracy protesters was holding in Sanaa. Western and Arab powers have been working to persuade Saleh to stay away and allow a long-negotiated transition of power to begin.
Medical staff are having trouble reaching the wounded, and electricity and water are scarce, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
“It has often been difficult for medical personnel to reach certain parts of Sanaa,” said Jean-Nicolas Marti, the head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen.
The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) said Yemenis are going hungry as the fighting disrupts food supplies and pushes up the price of gas, water, fuel and other basic commodities. The country, it said, is close to food prices doubling on average since last year when it comes to key commodities such as wheat flour, vegetable oil and sugar.
More than 200 people have been killed and thousands have fled Sanaa in the last two weeks as fighting intensified. Al-Ahmar’s men withdrew from around seven government buildings.
Many ministries were not functioning as staff stayed away and much of the city was suffering from cuts in electricity, fuel and water supplies.
The fighting has reduced Zinjibar, once home to more than 50,000 people, to a ghost town without power or running water.
Health official Alhadar Alsaidi said disease was spreading from dead bodies on the streets and wild dogs eating them. “I call on local and international health organizations to help us,” he said.
Saleh’s opponents accuse the president of deliberately letting al Qaeda militants take over Zinjibar to demonstrate the security risks if he were to lose power.
The volatile situation in Yemen, which lies on oil shipping lanes, alarms Western nations and neighboring oil giant Saudi Arabia, who fear that the chaos would give al Qaeda free rein. They see Saleh’s absence as an opportunity to secure his exit after nearly 33 years ruling the poorest Arab state.
The US and the UK have called for a peaceful, orderly transition in Yemen, based on a Gulf-brokered plan.
There was no clear word on Saleh’s health.
“I visited him and he was good. He talked to us and asked about the Yemeni expatriates and he is better than the others who were injured. He was sitting on a chair,” said Taha al-Hemyari, head of Yemeni community affairs at the Yemeni embassy in Riyadh.
A Saudi doctor familiar with Saleh’s case also said his burns were not as serious as some officials suggested, saying he may be able to leave Saudi Arabia in less than two weeks.
China Daily Asia Weekly on June 10, 2011, page 03