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2 killed in Yemen riots after tribal leader killed

December 20, 2013

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Thousands protesting the death of a prominent tribal leader rioted Friday in southern Yemen, forcing police officers to flee and attacking shops owned by northerners as two people were killed, security officials said.

The riots erupted after tribal leaders called for an “uprising” and a general strike in Mukalla, the provincial capital of Hadramawt, the officials said. They also called for expelling police and soldiers and to take control of government agencies and local municipalities. Clashes spilled outside Mukalla and into other cities in the province, including clashes between armed tribesmen and guards of oil facilities in an area called Ghail bin Youmin in Hadramawt, the officials said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

The violence follows the killing of Sheik Saad bin Habriesh on Dec. 2 at a military checkpoint, along with two others authorities described as suspected al-Qaida-linked militants. The killings sparked anger among tribes.

In recent days, anger among tribes caused President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to send moderators to the south and offer a settlement through a tribal committee. A statement by the Hadramawt Tribal Alliance demanded the presidency to look into the tribes’ conditions and to replace army and police forces with local tribesmen.

In other southern cities like Aden, heavy security forces deployed and witnesses said that stickers calling for the expulsion of northerners from the south were seen plastered shops known to be owned by northerners.

Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, faces huge problems on several fronts. Authorities are leading a war against al-Qaida’s local branch, considered by Washington as one of the world’s most dangerous terror groups. A strong southerners’ movement demands greater autonomy from the north after what it describes as two decades of marginalization and discrimination. South Yemen was an independent state until unification in 1990.

In the north, ultraconservative Salafis are battling a northern rebel movement, who belong to a Shiite branch. Fighters use heavy weapons to shell each camp’s strongholds, killing scores.

The central government led by the Western-backed Hadi, who replaced longtime autocratic leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, faces challenges from within from holdouts of Saleh’s government. Meanwhile, a national committee is coming up with a new political system for the country before writing a new constitution and holding elections.

Update hourly