Up to 1,400 detained Yemeni protesters to be released

Freedom comes as Saudi Arabia offers country urgent aid.

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SANAA // The Yemeni interior minister ordered the release of all detainees held in connection with nearly 11 months of protests in Sanaa.

The demonstrations aimed to press the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to step down after 33 years in office.

The release of the detained protesters was announced by the state news agency, Saba.

Activists said the decision, which follows a peace deal that resulted in the establishment of a unity government headed by an opposition leader, could affect up to 1,400 people held since protests began in February.

"We are not certain yet that all have been released," Mane Al Mutairi, an activist, told Reuters, adding that most of those held in relation to the protests were in Sanaa.

Also yesterday, the state news agency reported that Saudi Arabia has promised to provide the newly formed government of unrest-hit Yemen with urgently needed aid.

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has given instructions to provide "all the urgent needs of Yemen, especially petroleum products", the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud Al Faisal, said in a phone call with Yemen's prime minister, Mohammed Basindawa.

The decision comes after the formation of a unity government on December 7, as stipulated in a Gulf-brokered accord that paves the way for Mr Saleh to leave office.

But violence has continued. Al Qaeda-linked gunman fired on a Yemeni military vehicle, killing three soldiers and wounding 11 others near the southern city of Zinjibar, a military source said yesterday.

Yemen's army has for months been battling Islamist fighters from the group Partisans of Sharia, trying to retake control of Zinjibar, the capital of the restive Abyan province.

"Al Qaeda gunmen attacked on Monday evening a military vehicle while en route to a base east of Zinjibar, causing it to overturn," said an official.

Yemeni government forces have been backed by tribal fighters and sometimes supported by US drone strikes in their fight against the Partisans of Sharia, which has controlled most of Zinjibar since May.

Mr Saleh has handed over his constitutional powers to his deputy, who asked the opposition to form a government but who continues to serve as an honourary president until polls are held to elect his successor in February.

The southern Arabian Peninsula country produces 300,000 barrels per day of crude oil, of which it exports 105,000 bpd. But supplies have repeatedly been interrupted due to sabotage attacks.