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Al-Qaeda makes 'prohibitive' demands to quit Yemen town

Yemen: Al-Qaeda militants who seized a Yemeni town just 130 kilometres (85 miles) from the capital this week are making "prohibitive" demands for pulling out, a tribal leader said on Wednesday.

A delegation from tribes around the town of Rada, southeast of Sanaa, met the militants' leader, Tareq al-Dahab -- a brother-in-law of US-born jihadist cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi who was killed in a US drone strike last September, the tribal chief told AFP. "Dahab set two conditions -- applying sharia (Islamic law) and releasing 10 detainees, among them (his brother) Nabil and some prisoners held at Guantanamo," the tribal leader said on condition of anonymity.

"The conditions are prohibitive given the demand for the release of Yemeni prisoners from Guantanamo," which is not in the Sanaa government's gift, he added.

The militants moved into Rada during Sunday night, meeting little resistance from security forces, according to tribal leaders.

The presence of the gunmen did not prevent residents from going ahead with a planned protest against the government of veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh, as they have for months, witnesses said. Demonstrators expressed their anger at a transfer of power deal that gives Saleh and his family a promise of immunity from prosecution, but also voiced demands for the militants to leave, participants said. "We are appealing to the regime to expel the armed groups whom it allowed into the town, because we want to protect Rada from violence and discord," one of the demonstrators, Ahmed Abdullah, told AFP by telephone.

He was echoing accusations repeatedly made by activists who have been protesting against Saleh's regime for the past year that he has allowed militants to seize large swathes of the east and south so that he can play the Al-Qaeda card with Washington.

Al-Qaeda-linked militants control a string of towns in Abyan, Shabwa and Marib provinces, but Rada, in Al-Bayda province, is the closest they reached to the capital.

The strong jihadist presence in Yemen made Saleh a key ally in Washington's "war on terror" before the Arab spring uprisings sparked a wave of protests against his regime which he met with deadly violence. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that Al-Qaeda remained a US concern but called on Saleh to leave.

"We remain focused on the threat posed by Al-Qaeda in Yemen and we continue to work with our partners there and elsewhere to ensure that Al-Qaeda doesn't gain a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula through actions that would undermine the stability of Yemen and the region," Clinton said.

But she added: "We regret that the president has yet failed to comply with his own commitment to leave the country and to permit elections." Government officials have said the Al-Qaeda-linked insurgency could trigger postponement of a promised election to choose Saleh's successor that is supposed to be held on February 21. AFP

 

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