US official in Sanaa, al Qaeda militants escape prison


A senior US official is holding talks on Wednesday with government officials in Yemen, which is teetering on the brink of civil war over President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s refusal to meet protesters’ demands to step down. The United States and ally Saudi Arabia fear that a power vacuum and tribal warfare in Yemen will be exploited by the local wing of al Qaeda to launch attacks in the region and beyond.
On Wednesday, dozens of al Qaeda militants escaped from a prison the city of al-Mukalla in southern Yemen, the latest in a series of increasingly deadly clashes between security forces and militants in the south of the country. A Yemeni government source said Jeffrey Feltman, US Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, will meet Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi and Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is acting president.
He is also due to hold talks with Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been widely thought to be next in line for the presidency until protests broke out earlier this year. Saleh is in Saudi Arabia recovering from injuries sustained in an attack on his palace in Sanaa nearly three weeks ago. Talks will focus on “the situation in Yemen and the issue of the transfer of power” by the president to his deputy, the government source said.
As commander of the Republican Guards, the main strike force in Yemen, Ahmed Ali holds sway in the country of 23 million, which sits on the southern border of Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter. Saleh has defied calls from global leaders, elements in his own military and tens of thousands of protesters to end his 33 year-rule, which has brought Yemen close to financial ruin.
He has also exasperated his rich Gulf Arab neighbours by three times agreeing to step down, only to pull out of a power transition plan at the last minute and cling on to power.
AL QAEDA MILITANTS ESCAPE FROM PRISON: In an early bid to placate protesters demanding his ouster, Saleh guaranteed he would not hand power down to his son, but many Yemenis say key members of Saleh’s family including Ahmed Ali remain firmly in control of key levers of power, blocking any handover of power without Saleh’s consent.