Ali Abdullah Saleh

SANAA, Yemen — A Saudi diplomat was kidnapped on his way to work Wednesday in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden, a Yemeni security official said.

It was the first kidnapping of a Saudi diplomat in this impoverished country, where abductions are frequent and where armed tribesmen and al-Qaida-linked militants take hostages in an effort to swap them for prisoners or cash.

The security official identified the diplomat as Abdullah al-Khaldi, the deputy consul at the Saudi consulate in Aden. No more details were immediately available. The Yemeni official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

It was not clear whether the abduction had any political motives.

Saudi Arabia and the rest of Gulf Cooperation Council countries have been heavily involved in a power-transfer deal that forced Yemen’s longtime president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to relinquish power after a yearlong turmoil and mass protests against his rule. Saleh stepped down last month and handed power to his deputy.

Yemen’s turmoil has caused a security vacuum, which al-Qaida has used to seize large swaths of territory across the restive south.

Printed on Thursday, March 29, 2012 as: Saudi diplomat posted to Yemen kidnapped, reasons unknown

SANAA, Yemen — Sneaking across the desert behind army lines, al-Qaida militants launched a surprise attack against military bases in south Yemen, killing 107 soldiers and capturing heavy weapons they later used to kill more troops, officials said on Monday.

The military officials said at least 32 of the militants were killed in Sunday’s fighting in Abyan province, and scores were wounded on both sides. Medical officials in the area confirmed the death toll figures. They said the poor services in local hospitals accounted for the death of many soldiers who suffered serious wounds but could have survived had they been given better medical care.

The death toll among the troops is believed to be the highest on record in battles fought by the army against al-Qaida militants, who have been emboldened by the political turmoil roiling the impoverished Arab nation for more than a year.

The militants’ attack appeared to be al-Qaida’s response to a pledge by Yemen’s newly inaugurated President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to fight the Yemeni branch of the terror network, believed to be the world’s most active.

Hadi repeated that pledge on Monday during talks with a visiting British diplomat.

“The confrontation will continue until we are rid of the last terrorist, whether in Abyan or elsewhere,” local Yemeni media quoted him as saying.

The military officials said the militants’ surprise attack outside Abyan’s provincial capital Zinjibar also led to the capture of 55 soldiers. The captives were paraded on the streets of Jaar, a nearby town that, like Zinjibar, has been under al-Qaida’s control for about a year.

The officials spoke on Monday on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to reporters. The battle in Abyan province shows how militants have taken advantage of the turmoil created by the yearlong uprising against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who last month handed over power to Hadi.

Late Monday, the Defense Ministry said a soldier was killed and two others wounded when militants launched an attack on a military checkpoint in the southern province of Bayda, where al-Qaida took control in January.

In recent weeks in Bayda, there have been assassination attempts on security officials and a suicide bombing at a base belonging a force run by Saleh’s son.

The scale of Sunday’s attacks also points to the combat readiness of the militants as they launch more attacks in a region that the United States considers a key battleground in the war on al-Qaida.

Militants seized control of Zinjibar in May and Jaar the month before as Yemen security officials were focused on putting down a popular uprising against Saleh’s regime.

Saleh stepped down last month in a U.S.-backed power transfer deal that Washington hoped would allow Yemen’s new leaders to move against al-Qaida. But the fighting highlights the difficulties faced by Hadi in combatting the militant movement and restoring state authority in the lawless south.

Sunday’s fighting followed the dismissal last week by Hadi’s government of the military commander of the southern region, to which Abyan belongs, along with other security officials from the province.

The al-Qaida attack led to demonstrations on Monday by thousands of university students in the coastal city of Aden, Yemen’s second largest after Sanaa. The demonstrators demanded that Maj. Gen. Mahdi Maqoula, commander of an armored battalion deployed outside Zinjibar, be put on trial for suspicion of collaboration with al-Qaida.

The military officials said the militants were able to seize armored vehicles, artillery pieces, assault rifles and rockets from the stores of an army base they attacked. Some of the heavy weapons were later used against the troops, causing most of the casualties. The weapons were captured from Maqoula’s 31st armored battalion, according to the military officials.

A Defense Ministry statement on Sunday said the fighting began when militants detonated “booby trapped vehicles” at an army base in the region of Koud near Zinjibar. The wording of the statement suggested that the base had been occupied by the militants before army forces regrouped and took it back. The fighting lasted the whole day.

NEW YORK — A protest against embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh outside a luxury hotel in New York got heated Sunday when demonstrators saw him leave the building, with one charging toward him and another throwing a shoe.

“Everybody is living in fear of this guy at home, but here, he’s getting good treatment!” said Yemeni immigrant Nasser Almroot, a Brooklyn grocer.

The dozen angry protesters were kept behind police barricades across the street from the Ritz-Carlton hotel, which was teeming with security guards, both inside and on the sidewalk where Saleh passed.

The 69-year-old leader is visiting the United States for medical treatment.

He exited the hotel on Central Park South on Sunday afternoon and waved and smiled sardonically toward the yelling protesters — even blowing them a kiss. Suddenly, one of them tried to charge across the street but was restrained by police, who wrestled him to the ground.

“He can’t help it, the killer is here,” Almroot said.

As the man bolted out, a shoe flew in Saleh’s direction. Showing the sole of a shoe is an insult in Arab culture, because it is on the lowest part of the body, the foot. To hit someone with a shoe is seen as even worse.

Saleh got into his car and his motorcade left for an unknown destination.

Since he arrived in New York about a week ago, the Yemeni president has kept a low profile.

His presence, however, has been controversial.

On Sunday, the protesters hoisted placards bearing photos of Yemenis badly bloodied and brutally killed during his government’s yearlong crackdown on anti-Saleh demonstrations.

He signed a deal in November to transfer power to his vice president in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

An election is scheduled on Feb. 21 to select his successor in a nation mired in poverty and divided among powerful tribes and political factions.

While Saleh has been an anti-terrorism ally of Washington, the United States has not officially welcomed a leader accused of killing hundreds of people during an uprising against his 33-year rule.

Saleh traveled to the United States with permission for a private visit.

In June, he was badly injured in an attack on his presidential palace — an assassination attempt after which he spent months in Saudi Arabia being treated for massive burns from the explosion that ripped through his palace mosque as he prayed.

A world-renowned burn center is in Manhattan, at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Hospital officials have not confirmed whether Saleh was a patient there.

Protestors react after receiving the news of the departure of YemenÂ’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen on Saturday. A spokesman for YemenÂ’s embattled president says Ali Abdullah Saleh has left the country for the Persian Gulf country of Oman.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SANAA, Yemen — Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh left his battered nation Sunday on his way to the U.S. for medical treatment after passing power to his deputy and asking for forgiveness for any “shortcomings” during his 33-year rein.

But in a sign that Saleh’s role as Yemen’s top power broker is likely far from over, he said he would return to Yemen before the official power transfer next month to serve as the head of his ruling party.

Saleh’s departure marks a small achievement in the months of diplomatic efforts by the U.S. and Yemen’s powerful Gulf neighbors to ease the nearly year-old political crisis in the Arab world’s poorest country. An active al-Qaida branch there has taken advantage of the turmoil, stepping up operations and seizing territory.

After months of diplomatic pressure and mass protests calling for his ouster, Saleh signed a deal in November to transfer authority to his vice president in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Still, Saleh continued to exercise power behind the scenes, sparking accusations he sought to scuttle the deal and cling to power.

Presidential spokesman Ahmed al-Soufi told The Associated Press that Saleh left Yemen’s capital Sanaa late Sunday on a plane headed for the Gulf sultanate of Oman.

A senior administration official said Ali Abdullah Saleh would travel to New York this week, and probably stay in the U.S. until no later than the end of February. U.S. officials believe Saleh’s exit from Yemen could lower the risk of disruptions in the lead-up to presidential elections planned there on Feb. 21.

The Obama administration faced a dilemma in deciding whether to let Saleh enter the U.S. after he requested a visa last month. It has long seen getting Saleh out of Yemen as an important step in ensuring the power transfer goes forward.

But some in the administration worried that welcoming Saleh would spark charges from the Arab world that the U.S. was harboring an autocrat responsible for deadly crackdowns on protesters.

To protect against this, the administration has sought assurances that Saleh will not seek to remain in the U.S.

An official close to Saleh said Sunday the president would undergo medical exams in Oman before heading to the U.S. The U.S. has forbidden him from any political activity in the U.S., the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorize to disclose diplomatic talks.

Saleh is likely seeking treatment for injuries sustained in a blast in his palace mosque last June 3 that left him badly burned. After the attack, Saleh traveled to Saudi Arabia for treatment, leaving many to suspect his power was waning. A few months later, however, he made a surprise return to Yemen and resumed his post.

Protestors react and shout slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Taiz, Yemen, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011. The banner at right, in Arabic, re

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SANAA, Yemen — Gunmen in civilians clothes opened fire on anti-government protesters in Yemen’s capital, and tanks shelled residential neighborhoods in another major city, killing a 13-year-old boy and leaving at least a dozen people wounded Thursday, witnesses and a medical official said.

The attacks came as thousands of activists marched in the capital Sanaa and in the central city of Taiz, calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to face trial for his government’s crackdown on protesters.

For nearly 10 months, protesters have filled streets and public squares across Yemen, calling for the ouster of Saleh, who has been in power for three decades. While Saleh’s security forces have used deadly force to suppress the protests, international diplomacy has failed to resolve the crisis.

The U.N. Secretary General’s special envoy to Yemen, Jamal bin Omar, arrived in the country Thursday to seek progress on a U.S.-backed proposal to end the crisis. The plan was put forward by Yemen’s powerful Gulf Arab neighbors.

Under the plan, Saleh would step down and pass power to his vice president in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Saleh has agreed to the proposal three times, only to refuse to sign at the last minute.

Many Yemeni activists criticize the proposal for granting Saleh immunity and allowing him to stay on as head of the ruling party. They complain that it falls short of the democratic reforms and new government they want their uprising to achieve.

Thousands took to the streets in Sanaa and Taiz Thursday to call for Saleh to stand trial for his government’s deadly crackdown.

In Yemen’s second largest city, Taiz, tanks shelled residential neighborhoods, destroying several buildings, and security forces opened fire on a protest in the city’s center, killing a 13-year-old boy and wounding nine others, a medical official said.

The medical official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

Printed on Friday, November 11, 2011 as: Yemeni protesters meet gunfire

Thousands of protesters backed by military defectors seized a base of the elite Republican Guards on Monday, weakening the control of Yemen’s embattled president over this poor, fractured Arab nation. His forces fired on unarmed demonstrators elsewhere in the capital, killing scores, wounding hundreds and sparking international condemnation.

The protesters, joined by soldiers from the renegade 1st Armored Division, stormed the base without firing a single shot, according to witnesses and security officials. Some carried sticks and rocks. They used sandbags to erect barricades to protect their comrades from the possibility of weapons fire from inside the base, but none came and the Republican Guards eventually fled, leaving their weapons behind.

Although the base was not particularly large — the Republican Guards have bigger ones in the capital and elsewhere in Yemen — its capture buoyed the protesters’ spirits and signaled what could be the start of the collapse of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year-old regime.

“It was unbelievable,” said protester Ameen Ali Saleh of storming the base on the west side of the major al-Zubairy road, which runs through the heart of Sanaa. “We acted like it was us who had the weapons, not the soldiers.”

“Now the remainder of the regime will finally crumble,” said another demonstrator, Mohammed al-Wasaby. “Our will is more effective than weapons. The soldiers loyal to Saleh just ran away.”

As clashes continued into the night, several loud explosions rocked Sanaa, and a mortar hit the Islamic University of Al-Iman, killing one and injuring two others. The cause of the explosions was not known.

Saleh went to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment after a June attack on his Sanaa compound and has not returned to Yemen, but has resisted calls to resign.

A final showdown may well pit the Republican Guards, led by Saleh’s son and heir apparent Ahmed, against the soldiers of the 1st Armored Division, another elite outfit that has fought in all of Yemen’s wars over the past two decades, and their tribal allies in the capital.

The Republican Guards and the Special Forces, also led by the president’s son, have long been thought to be the regime’s last line of defense against the seven-month-old uprising.

The storming of the base capped two days of clashes in the capital that have left at least 50 people dead and nearly 1,000 injured, mostly demonstrators.

Government forces used snipers stationed on rooftops, anti-aircraft guns, rocket propelled grenades and mortars against the unarmed protesters. Witnesses and security officials described scenes of mutilated bodies, some torn apart. An infant girl, a 14-year-old boy and three rebel soldiers were among the at least 23 people killed on Monday.

“It is over,” concluded protest leader Abdul-Hadi al-Azzai. “The Ali Abdullah Saleh regime is finished. How can you negotiate while massacres are ongoing? The world is silent.”