Yemeni forces mounted dual assaults on country’s south Monday, killing more than 20 opposition demonstrators in the city of Taiz, while government warplanes launched airstrikes on another southern town seized by Islamist militants.
In Taiz, Republican Guard troops and plainclothes gunmen backed by tanks moved in before dawn, opening fire on crowds in the city’s main square where protesters had been camped out for weeks. Witnesses say Yemeni troops shot at protesters, running them over, setting fire to tents and crushing a field hospital before occupying the entire square.
The three-month-old protest camp, where thousands of activists had demanded the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, was completely destroyed. The United States Embassy in Sana’a condemned the “unprovoked and unjustified attack on youth protesters.”
Meanwhile, Yemeni helicopter gunships and fighter jets bombed militant positions in Zinjibar Monday, a day after Islamists of uncertain affiliation consolidated their control over the city, which is the capital of southern Abyan province. Yemeni officials say at least four soldiers were killed in Zinjibar Monday, raising the city’s death toll from three days of fighting to more than 30, including militants, government forces and civilians.
Yemeni opposition figures and dissident generals have accused Mr. Saleh of surrendering Abyan province to “terrorists” to scare people into thinking that al-Qaida will overrun the country unless he remains in power. Mr. Saleh has been in office for nearly 33 years.
In the capital, Sana’a, several explosions and shooting were heard late Monday in the Hasaba district, the scene of week-long fighting between Mr. Saleh’s forces and a rival tribe. Residents in the Yemeni capital reported that Internet service had been cut and a major cell phone provider network disrupted.
Meanwhile, Yemeni security officials say they are searching for three French aid workers who have been missing in the southeastern province of Hadramout since Saturday. The officials said Monday authorities have located a vehicle used by the aid workers outside a town in the province.
The French foreign ministry says it appears increasingly likely that the aid workers were kidnapped. They were working for the France-based aid group Triangle Generation Humanitaire.