Death toll rises as clashes ensue for fifth day in Yemen
Azerbaijan , Baku, Sept. 22 / Trend A. Isgandarov /
Rival troops battled in the streets of the Yemeni capital for a fifth straight day Thursday, following the failure of a diplomatic bid to end the deadliest violence since mass anti-regime protests swept the country, Al Arabiya reported.
Sporadic gunfire was heard throughout the night but later erupted into a full blown confrontation between troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh and combatants of dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.
Residents said the fighting occurred near the southern entrance of Change Square, the base of the anti-government protesters who have been calling for Saleh's resignation since January.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
In all, some 85 people, mostly unarmed civilians targeted by security forces or caught in the crossfire of the rival military units, have been killed in five days of clashes that first erupted on Sunday.
Meanwhile, a diplomatic official who requested anonymity told AFP that a Gulf mediator who left Sana'a after failing to broker a peace deal would head to New York to discuss Yemen's deteriorating security situation with Gulf foreign ministers.
The Yemeni army also blocked entrances to Sana'a after the collapse of the negotiated cease-fire. Snipers and shelling killed at least five people in Sana'a on Wednesday, Reuters reported the medics as saying, raising the death toll in the last four days to 75.
Abdullatif al-Zayani, the Gulf Cooperation Council chief, left Yemen Wednesday empty-handed, saying the country's political rivals are not ready for an agreement, the Yemen's official news agency reported.
Both warring parties have thrown out accusations, each blaming the other for violating a truce agreed upon late Tuesday.
Saleh has remained mostly silent in the face of the escalating violence. He left Sana'a for the Saudi capital Riyadh in June to receive medical treatment after being wounded in a bomb attack on his presidential compound.
The death toll has risen to around 80 since Sunday, when protesters' frustration boiled over at Saleh's refusal to accept a mediated handover plan. Saleh has been in Saudi Arabia since June, where he had surgery on injuries that he suffered in an assassination attempt.
The fighting between state troops and defected soldiers began after tens of thousands of protesters marched on Sunday close to a part of Sanaa controlled by government forces.
World powers fear that chaos in Yemen, home to al Qaeda's most powerful regional branch and adjoining the world's biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia, could imperil oil shipping lanes and raise the risk of militant strikes on Western targets.
Despite the violence, opposition and government sources said talks were continuing over a Gulf-backed transition plan to ease Saleh out of office, from which Saleh has backed out three times.