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Diplomats trapped by Yemeni gunman

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Diplomats trapped by Yemeni gunman

UAE embassy sieged, ambassadors eventually evacuated

  • A protester in Sanaa, Yemen, beats a photo of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh with a shoe on Feb. 25—a sign of disrespect in the Arab world.
    AJTalkEng/FlickrA protester in Sanaa, Yemen, beats a photo of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh with a shoe on Feb. 25—a sign of disrespect in the Arab world.

SANAA, Yeman — A mob of gunmen loyal to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh trapped the American, British, European Union ambassadors, as well as the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, for hours inside a diplomatic compound.

Eventually the top diplomats were evacuated by helicopter, according to local reports.

The blockade of the envoys in the United Arab Emirates embassy temporarily disrupted plans to get Saleh to sign an agreement for him to step down from power.

But the diplomats flew to the presidential palace where they witnessed a top official of Saleh's ruling party sign the agreement, which was reported on state television. Saleh did not sign the agreement himself, but he watched as the top party official put his signature to the deal. According to the agreement Saleh will step down from power within 30 days.

Earlier the Saleh loyalists said they were preventing the diplomats from going to the presidential palace to convince Saleh to sign the power transfer deal that was brokered by the regional Gulf Cooperation Council.

Wielding AK-47’s and placards bearing Saleh’s portrait, the gunmen blocked the road leading to the UAE embassy with SUVs and makeshift stone barriers as several helicopters flew overhead.

“We don’t want Saleh to leave, we won’t let him sign. That’s why we’re holding them here,” said Ahmed Saleem, one of the Saleh supporters outside the embassy.

The embassy siege lasted more than two hours before.

The Gulf Cooperation Council has said it will drop out of Yemen's power transfer deal and withdraw from mediation if Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh doesn't sign it by the end of the day, according to the Associated Press.

Saleh has been an ally of the United States but Yemen is seen by many as a key country of support for al-Qaeda.

Armed Saleh loyalists also disrupted traffic across Sanaa. Starting early Sunday morning they took control of busy intersections and blocked roads with SUVs adorned with pro-Saleh posters and banners.

Violence broke out near Sanaa’s airport as pro-and anti-government protesters met on the streets.

“We have initial reports that at least one unarmed anti-government protester was killed by Saleh loyalists,” said protest leader Adel al-Surabi.

Eyewitnesses claim that many of the plainclothes gunmen stopped motorists in traffic and brandished their fireams to force people to declare their allegiance to Saleh.

The power transfer accord had already been signed by leading members of Yemen’s political opposition. Leaders of the Joint Meeting Parties signed the agreement Saturday night. But on Sunday, Saleh demanded that they sign the agreement in a public event, rejecting anything done “behind closed doors.”

Hours before the opposition signed the agreement, Saleh denounced the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative as “a coup against the constitutional legitimacy and came under western efforts to create a weak regime in the region.” Saleh was speaking to soldiers assembled for Unification Day celebrations.

He also said that the GCC initiative is “purely a plot but we will deal with it positively” accusing the Gulf region countries of financing Yemen's ongoing protests to get Saleh to leave power.

May 22nd is Yemen’s anniversary of the 1990 unification of the northern Yemen Arab Republic and the southern People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. Saleh touts the unification of North and South Yemen as one of his greatest achievements as head of state and he has traditionally used Unification Day as a show of his force. Saleh usually stands before thousands of soldiers offering him a salute, accompanied by tanks, missiles and fighter jets to commemorate Yemen’s unification.

But this year anti-government protesters took to the streets waving Yemen flags and chanting anti-Saleh slogans to mark the celebration.

“Yemen’s unity is maintained by the people, not the president. Saleh’s empty threats that the country’s unity will be undermined if he leaves office is utterly ridiculous,” said Jamal Nasser, spokesman for the Coordination Council for the Youth Revolution of Change, Yemen’s largest protest organization.

He added: “It’s all a one man show. Saleh’s regime is more like a mob than a government.”

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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