SANAA, YEMEN: Explosives Factory Blast Kills At Least 78: UPDATED

28 Mar

 

An anti-government protestor is lifted by others, holds his national flag and shouting slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yem
AP – An anti-government protestor is lifted by others, holds his national flag and shouting slogans during …

Yemenis rally against government Slideshow:Yemenis rally against government

By AHMED AL-HAJ, Associated Press Ahmed Al-haj, Associated Press :

SANAA, Yemen – A powerful blast at a factory making explosives and weapons in southern Yemen killed at least 78 people on Monday after the facility was briefly taken over by Islamic militants and then looted by residents of the area, officials said.

Many women and children from the surrounding villages were killed in the explosion, which left some bodies blackened and burned, said medical and security officials in Abyan province. The blast appeared to be accidental but there was no word on the exact cause.

On Sunday, militants took over the factory and the nearby the town of Jaar, taking advantage of the country’s deteriorating security as an unprecedented wave of anti-government protests threatens the president who has ruled the impoverished and divided nation for 32 years.

The fighters took what they wanted and left. Later, locals entered the facility to loot it, said resident Walid Mohammed Muqbil. The factory makes munitions, Kalashnikov weapons and explosives used in road construction in the mountainous area.

Among the wounded, 27 people were in critical condition. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

The factory was seized on Sunday by one of the many militant groups roaming Yemen’s largely lawless hinterlands called the Salafi Jihad.

Officials at al-Razi hospital in Jaar confirmed that dozens of the victims were brought to the hospital and some very critical cases were sent to a hospital in the nearby port city of Aden.

Chinese factory workers left the facility several days ago because of the political turmoil and the absence of security in the area, Muqbil said.

Another resident, Seif Mohammed, said the blast could be heard as far as 10 miles (15 kilometers) from the factory.

Yemen has been hit by weeks of unrest and deteriorating security as protesters throughout the country demand the president’s ouster and the introduction of political freedoms. A government crackdown has killed 92 protesters, according to the Shiqayiq Forum for Human Rights.

As the situation has escalated, police and security forces have withdrawn from some towns and cities in Yemen, chased out by protesters in some cases.

The area around the weapons factory was one of them.

The deputy governor of Abyan province, Saleh al-Samty, blamed the national government for the tragedy, saying it was a result of the lack of order resulting from security units abandoning their posts.

NEWS UPDATE:

At least 78 people – including children – have been killed after an explosion an ammunition factory in southern Yemen, according to local official.

Yemen: 78 Die In Botched Weapon Factory Raid Enlarge photo

A medical source said residents of the town of Jaar were trying to steal ammunition from the plant when the blast happened.

“This accident is a true catastrophe, the first of its kind in Abyan,” said one doctor at the town’s state-run hospital.

“There are so many burned bodies. I can’t even describe the situation.”

The factory was reportedly seized by a militant group during fighting with security forces the previous day. 

About 30 armed and hooded gunmen mounted the raid and made off in four vehicles with cases of weapons, witnesses said.

Yemen is struggling to contain anti-government protests, as well as a Shia Muslim insurgency in the north, separatists in the south and al Qaeda fighters based in the east.

It was not immediately clear if the explosion in Abyan province was an accident or an attack.

The United States has expressed concerns that Islamic militants could increase their foothold in Yemen if President Ali Abdullah Saleh is swept from power.

“We have had a lot of counterterrorism co-operation from President Saleh and Yemeni security services,” US defence Secretary Robert Gates said. 

“So if that government collapses or is replaced by one that is dramatically more weak, then I think we’ll face some additional challenges out of Yemen.”

On Sunday, Mr Saleh withdrew an offer to step down by the end of the year after negotiations with the opposition – which now includes defecting military commanders, politicians and diplomats – collapsed.

Meanwhile, Syria’s vice-president said on Monday that President Bashar al Assad would announce important decisions that would “please the Syrian people” in the next two days.

Sky sources said he was expected to announce the lifting of an emergency law – in place since 1963 – which has been used to justify arbitrary arrests, closed courts and bans on protesting. 

Dozens of people have been killed during two weeks of unprecedented demonstrations against the ruling Baath party.

Turkey’s prime minister said earlier that he hoped Mr Assad would take positive steps to resolve the political crisis there.

“He said they were working on lifting the state of emergency to meet demands,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. 

“They told us they were working on political parties… we hope these measures are actually implemented rather than remaining promises.”

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