|Defected Yemeni soldiers have been guarding anti-government protesters in Sanaa [EPA]|
Fierce clashes have erupted between forces loyal to Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his opponents in two areas in the capital Sanaa, a day after the UN urged the embattled leader to hand over power.
In the area around Change Square, where thousands of protesters have been camped out calling for Saleh to quit, fighting erupted on Saturday between government troops and defected soldiers loyal to dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.
Five soldiers belonging to the rebel first division were reportedly killed by gunshots from forces loyal to Saleh, in what appears to be a continuation of fighting that began a day earlier.
Witnesses and AFP correspondents in Sanaa said explosions were heard throughout the capital from the early hours on Saturday.
Massive plumes of smoke and fire were also seen rising from several neighbourhoods where opposition forces were stationed.
Columns of smoke rose from the northern Sanaa district of Hasaba following heavy shelling from pro-Saleh troops, witnesses told the German news agency DPA.
An AFP correspondent said ambulances were seen racing out of Hasaba, home to tribal chief Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar.
Saturday’s violence came a day after the UN Security council unanimously passed a resolution that “strongly” condemned the deadly government attacks on demonstrators and backed a Gulf plan for Saleh to end his 33 years in power.
Yemen said on Saturday it was ready to “deal positively” with the UN resolution, the Reuters news agency reported.
“The Yemeni government is willing to deal positively with UN Security Council resolution 2014, for it conforms with the Yemeni government efforts to put an end to the political crisis on the basis of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) initiative,” a government source said in a statement obtained by Reuters.
Saleh has already backed down three times from signing the Gulf initiative, which came following months of protests which have left several hundred people killed since January.
Clear and unified message
Friday’s Security Council’s pronouncement on the Yemen crisis, the strongest one yet by the UN, called on Saleh to keep a promise to immediately sign the GCC plan, paving the way for a peaceful power transition “without further delay”.
Following the resolution, the US called for the transfer of power to begin “immediately”.
“The international community sent a clear, unified message that the time has come for President Saleh to allow the Yemeni people to live free from violence and insecurity,” State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said in a
Saleh had previously said he agreed to the plan by the six Gulf states, but has refused to sign it or implement any of its provisions.
The resolution is less than what was demanded in New York by Yemeni protest leader Tawakul Karman, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month.
Karman was outside the Security Council for the vote and she called for international pressure on Saleh.
“Dictatorships are going down and are done,” she said before the meeting.
On Friday, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of the Yemeni capital to again demand Saleh’s resignation, galvanised by the death of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
“Ali, it’s your turn next, yours and Bashar’s,” the protesters chanted, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, another regional leader facing “Arab Spring”-style protests.
“Every dictator meets his end,” they chanted as they marched through the centre of Sanaa under the protection of dissident troops who have switched their loyalties to the anti-government protesters.