Sana'a: Backers of a Yemeni Islamist party, that signed on to a plan to nudge the president from power, scuffled with members of a Shiite rebel movement frozen out of the deal in the capital Sana'a yesterday, witnesses said.
They said loyalists of the Islah party traded blows with clubs and volleys of stones with members of the Al Houthi rebel movement, in the Sana'a Square that has seen nearly a year of protests aimed at forcing the president from power.
Activists said at least 20 people were injured during the scuffles, which a representative of Al Houthis said erupted when Islah backers attacked a tent they had set up to denounce the deal to edge President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office. That deal — crafted by Yemen's richer neighbours, and backed by a UN Security Council resolution and Washington — offers Saleh immunity from prosecution in exchange for handing power to his deputy, who is to work with a government including Islah and other opposition parties before a February presidential vote.
Saleh had backed out of the deal several times before signing it last month in Saudi Arabia, which shares US fears that the struggle over Saleh's fate could descend into civil war and chaos that strengthens Al Qaida's wing in Yemen.
The deal did not include Al Houthis, members of the Shiite Zaydi sect, whom Saleh launched an abortive campaign to crush — which also saw Saudi military intervention in 2009 — in the northwestern Sa'ada province bordering Saudi Arabia.
UN Yemen envoy Jamal Benomar, who is attempting to shore up the transition deal, visited Sa'ada this month and met with leaders of Al Houthis.
Washington is weighing a request for a visa from Saleh, who said he planned a US visit on Saturday, hours after his forces killed nine people demanding he be tried for the deaths of hundreds of protesters during 11 months of protests.
He told reporters his trip would include medical tests. Saleh suffered burns and other injuries in an assassination attempt in June that capped fighting between his forces and those of a tribal faction influential in Islah.
The top "counter-terrorism" official in Washington — which wages a campaign of drone strikes against alleged Al Qaida members in Yemen and assassinated Anwar Al Awlaki, a US citizen earlier this year — urged Saleh's deputy Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Sunday to show restraint with protests.