Explosions and street fighting in Yemen capital

Explosions ripped through a northern area of Yemen's capital on Wednesday as a powerful tribal group...

A Yemeni anti-government protester holds signs that read in English and Arabic "Go Out" and "Leave" during a demonstration calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on 30 May 2011. AFP

Explosions ripped through a northern area of Yemen's capital on Wednesday as a powerful tribal group backing the ouster of entrenched President Ali Abdullah Saleh battled his security forces.

Global powers have been pressing Saleh to sign a Gulf-led deal to end his three-decade rule and stem spreading chaos in unstable Yemen, a haven for al Qaeda militants and neighbour to the world's biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia.

Witnesses said they heard several blasts but were not sure of the cause or the damage near the Hasaba district the focal point of fighting last week that killed at least 115 people and pushed the country closer to civil war.

On Tuesday explosions rocked a nearby northern district that houses the headquarters of an army division headed by Ali Mohsen, an influential general who has joined the opposition.

Residents also reported overnight fighting near Sanaa airport, which was closed briefly last week during skirmishes between Saleh's forces and opponents within his own powerful Hashed tribal confederation, who are led by Sadeq al-Ahmar.

Fourteen soldiers were killed in overnight fighting with the tribesmen, the Defence Ministry website said.

Medical officials told Reuters at least five other people had been killed in the recent fighting, which may have entered a new phase with some troops in armoured vehicles joining the opposition, suggesting more military defections from Saleh.

Some military leaders broke away from Saleh in March after his troops fired on protesters calling for an end to his 33-year-old rule. Yemen is on the brink of financial ruin, with about a third of its 23 million people facing chronic hunger.

The political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said in a report the most likely outcome is that Saleh leaves through a political deal he brokers from a position of weakness, or is ousted by force by breakaway military units and tribal leaders.

"Saleh is unlikely to survive 2011 as president of Yemen; however the likelihood of a managed transition is decreasing, and an attempt to forcibly oust Saleh from power is becoming more likely," the report said.

"Saleh leaving power early does not result in a functional Yemeni state that can reassert control over the country in the short term," it added.

AL QAEDA WORRIES

Saleh has exasperated his rich Gulf Arab neighbours by three times agreeing to step down, only to renege at the last minute.

He drew the ire of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after his troops fired on protesters in the city of Taiz, about 200 km south of the capital. The chief U.N. human rights envoy said her office was investigating reports that at least 50 people have been killed there since Sunday.

Analysts are worried that instability in Yemen, sitting on a shipping lane that carries about 3 million barrels of oil a day, could embolden a local al Qaeda wing which has attempted attacks on the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Locals and Yemeni troops have been fighting to recapture the coastal city of Zinjiabar, which was taken over by several hundred al Qaeda and Islamist militants at the weekend.

Six soldiers and four gunmen were killed in clashes in two areas near Zinjibar, a local security official said.

Residents said parts of the city were hit by artillery and missiles as troops tried to push out militants.