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Yemen Erupts in More Clashes as Saleh’s Status Remains Unclear

June 6, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: The future of Yemen was clouded with questions today. It remained uncertain whether the country’s president had gone for good, after 33 years, and whether the shooting would stop.

Gunfire echoed in Sana’a today, even as street celebration continued in the wake of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s abrupt departure. Saleh was injured Friday in a rocket attack on his compound. He traveled to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for medical treatment the following day, immediately creating a power vacuum in the Arab world’s poorest nation.

Yemen’s vice president, who is serving as acting president for now, said Saleh plans to return within days. It was unclear if the Saudis would allow that, but, even if they do, an opposition spokesman said, Saleh’s time has passed.

MAN (through translator): Thank God. We are now about to form a council to manage the country in this transitional period. And we do not care if Saleh returns to the country or not. This transitional council will gain its legitimacy from the people of Yemen.

GWEN IFILL: Pressure continued to build on Saleh to accept a Gulf Arab-brokered deal to cede power. But he has reneged on such agreements three times in the past six weeks, even as popular uprising and tribal warfare gathered steam.

In Washington today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated the U.S. position, urging Saleh to step aside.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: Our position has not changed. It continues to remain the same. We think an immediate transition is in the best interests of the Yemeni people, because the instability and lack of security currently afflicting Yemen cannot be addressed until there is some process that everyone knows is going to lead to the sort of economic and political reforms that they are seeking.

GWEN IFILL: The U.S. interest in a secure Yemen is acute because of the presence there of an increasingly active main offshoot of al-Qaida. But hopes for stability in the form of a fragile cease-fire in Sana’a appeared uncertain today, as six people died in gunfights in the city.

Jeb Boone is in Sana’a for GlobalPost.

JEB BOONE, GlobalPost: Uncertain may even be sort of an understatement. The protesters are — seem to be the only people who are confident that this is the end of the conflict.

The tribesmen and the security forces are still fighting in the city. There’s still sporadic gunfire in the night coming from checkpoints or just from skirmishes in the streets. So, no one is exactly sure where Yemen is headed for.

GWEN IFILL: And away from Sana’a, in the coastal city of Zinjibar, seven soldiers were killed in clashes with armed men. Militants seized government buildings there last month.

And in Yemen’s second largest city, Taiz, there was renewed heavy fighting. As many as 50 people have been killed there in the last week.