Yemeni minister survives bombing


Yemen's defence minister survived a suicide bomb attack on his convoy in the south today, while thousands of protesters took to the streets of the capital repeating their calls for the president to quit.

The blast in Aden wounded seven soldiers travelling in the lead vehicle of the ministerial motorcade, but Defence Minister Mohammed Nasser Ali, who was riding in the second car, was unharmed, a local official said.

Since popular protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh broke out in the Arabian Peninsula state earlier this year, Islamist militants suspected of links to al-Qaeda have tightened their grip on the south and have repeatedly targeted troops and security officials.

International powers fear growing lawlessness in Yemen could embolden al-Qaeda's local wing and imperil strategic shipping routes.

But a greater concern is the shaky calm that now pervades the capital Sanaa, where observers say a surge of fighting last week between the military and soldiers who have defected risks sparking civil war on the doorstep of top oil exporter Saudi Arabia.

Thousands of people marched in Sanaa for a second day of protests to mark their anger at Mr Saleh's surprise return to Yemen last Friday. He had been in Riyadh for three months receiving treatment after a June bomb attack.

Since his comeback, fighting has tapered off but tensions are high and any movement on a long-stalled Gulf power transfer plan appeared to slow. Some negotiators accuse the ruling party of using the distraction over Mr Saleh's return to delay a deal they that had been close to finalisation before violence broke out last week.

"The people want to rebuild Yemen," demonstrators shouted, waving Yemeni flags and carrying pictures of some of the 100 people killed in the latest violence, the bloodiest episode of the eight month protest movement.

"These political negotiations are endless, they're destroying our revolution," said one protester. "We have to keep pushing, we have to change the regime and I think that is worth dying for."

In Aden, officials told Reuters what they initially thought was a remote-controlled bomb now appeared to have been a suicide attack. Investigators found the body of a 19-year-old inside a car which exploded and concluded he was the bomber.

It was the second time in a month that the defence minister has narrowly escaped with his life. In August, his convoy hit a landmine in the flashpoint province of Abyan, where al-Qaeda linked militants have seized several cities in the coastal province.