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Yemen Civil War - 2011

In February 2011, government loyalists and opposition tribesmen clashed during protests in Yemen, especially in the capital Sana'a, against the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In April 2011, President Saleh of Yemen rejected a Gulf Cooperation Council proposal that would have seen his resignation, leading to increased protests and clashes between his supporters and the opposition. In late April 2011, reports surfaced that President Saleh had finally agreed to a GCC proposal that would see him leave office. Violent clashes continued and on 30 April 2011, President Saleh publicly said he was rejecting the deal. The GCC appealed again to President Saleh in private on 22 May 2011, but the President reported rejected the plan again. The situation subsequently devolved into open fighting between military forces loyal to the government, defecting military forces, and tribal militia in the capital Sana'a in May 2011.

On 26 May 2011, President Saleh ordered the arrest of Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, head of the Hashid tribal group, as violence escalated in the capital Sana'a and elsewhere in the country. On 27 May 2011, Yemeni tribal leaders were reported to have attacked 2 military bases belonging to the powerful Presidential Guard in Sana'a and a Republican Guard base in the province of Jouf. It was reported that the Yemeni Air Force later intervened in Sana'a bombing the tribal forces besieging the Fardha Nehem base, 80 kilometers north of the capital. By the end of 27 May 2011, forces in the capital had agreed to a truce. On 28 May 2011, a mediator reported that President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar had agreed to a ceasefire and to move their forces out of the contested Hassaba neighborhood in the capital Sana'a.

Also on 28 May 2011, several-hundred fighters reported to be loyal to al-Qaeda seized the southern coastal Yemen city of Zinjibar, capital of Yemen's Abyan Governorate, some 500km southeast of Sana'a, after gunbattles with security forces. The fighters seized weapons and other supplies from government facilities during the fighting, as residents fled. Opposition politicians critized President Saleh for "handing" the city to militants.

On 29 May 2011, Yemeni government forces moved into the city of Taiz, firing live ammunition, in an attempt to disperse protesters there. Security forces overnight had attempted to use tear gas and water cannon to the same end.

On 31 May 2011, thousands were reported to have fled their homes in Zinjibar following three days of intensified army ground attacks and air strikes against militants who stormed the city. More than 50 anti-government protesters in the city of Taiz were also reported to have been killed, and over 1,000 wounded, in a crackdown by Yemen government forces there.

On 3 June 2011, President Ali Abdullah Saleh was injured in an attack on the presidential mosque in his compound in the capital Sana'a. The country's Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament were injured and at least three guards were killed. The President was said to be in good condition and was to subsequently make an announcement to the Yemeni people. Officials blamed the attack on members of the al-Ahmar clan.

On 5 June 2011, reports surfaced that President Saleh was in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. These reports were later confirmed, with President Saleh apparently requiring advanced medical care to remove shrapnel in his chest and elsewhere received during the attack. Reports varied as to how long he would remain in Saudi Arabia to recover.

On 6 June 2011, it was reported that Vice-President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi had stepped in to take over control of the country in President Saleh's absence. This was met with support from the opposition, although it was unclear whether or not the power transfer was permanent in any way. Opposition figures said they would pursue "alternatives" if President Saleh attempted to return to a position of authority. On 7 June 2011, Vice-President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi ruled out a transition deal, amid reports that President Saleh would return "in days." President Saleh was later reported to have suffered serious injuries, including burns over 40 percent of his body, bringing into question how long his stay in Saudi Arabia would be.

On 9 June 2011, the New York Times published an article saying that the US had increased covert strikes in Yemen in light of fears that Al-Qaeda operatives in the country would use the power vacuum to their advantage. On 10 June 2011, rival rallies between those loyal to President Saleh and those supporting the opposition were held in the capital Sana'a. An estimated 100,000 people in total attended the rallies. In a message delivered through his Foreign Minister on June 29, 2011, President Saleh called for the opening of dialogue with the opposition to begin a Gulf-state brokered transition of power.

Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi said on June 30, 2011, that President Saleh's injuries were so severe that it was unclear when he would return to Yemen, a statement in direct conflict with one he issued on June 7, 2011, saying that Saleh would be returning "in days". Furthermore, opposition members stated that over 300 goverment soliders had defected as of June 30, 2011. A statement issued by a senior Yemeni official on July 2, 2011, said that President Saleh's injuries would prevent him from fulfilling his duties for months. Soon after, President Saleh appeared on Yemeni television on July 7, 2011. In the short, pre-recorded address, Saleh called for dialogue and stated that those who aimed to remove him from power had an "incorrect understanding of democracy."

On 23 November 2011, President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed a Gulf Cooperation Council initiative to transfer power to a deputy, a move designed to end months of swelling protests against his 33-year rule. Saleh signed the initiative during a ceremony in Saudi Arabia. Under the plan signed on 23 November 2011, Saleh would hand over power to Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was to begin the process of forming a national unity government. The plan also calls for an early presidential election and provided Saleh with immunity from prosecution. Saleh had previously agreed to the GCC initiative on numerous occasions since it was first revealed in April 2011. He had subsequently renegged on his promises to follow through with the transfer of power. Protests erupted in Yemen on 25 November 2011 in response to the immunity component of the deal.

The announcement of the deal did not immediately end fighting. Western observers also voiced concerns about the rise of groups in the country connected with Al Qaeda as a result of the power vacuum. On 12 December 2011, Yemeni officials said that at least 16 prisoners, including suspected members of Al-Qaeda, had escaped from a prison in the Yemeni city of Aden. The escape had been engineered by Islamist insurgents in the south who had used the country's instability to take effective control of southern regions.

On 11 December 2011, Yemen's new coalition government was sworn in. On 21 December 2011, the UN Secretary General's Special Adviser for Yemen, Jamal Benomar, reported that the political transition process in Yemen was moving forward and the agreement was being implemented, with the Government already having taken action to restore peace and stability. UN officials had previously noted that the conduct of the transition process would be critical for Yemen's immediate future.

The fledgling coalition government faced significant challenges, such as a weak economy, a divided armed forces, and pre-existing tensions with various factions in the country. It appeared that the election for a new president would also only have one candidate: Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, broadly seen as a neutral figure. However, it was unclear whether he could find a middle ground between the country's military and various tribal factions, including the Hashids, widely considered to be two of the more significant political entities in the country.

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Page last modified: 24-01-2015 19:09:01 ZULU