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30 killed in Yemen's sectarian fight ahead of presidential polls

(Xinhua)

10:01, February 08, 2012

SANAA, Feb. 7 (Xinhua) -- At least 30 gunmen were killed on Tuesday in the ongoing fighting between a Shiite rebel group and Sunni fundamentalists in Yemen's northwest restive province of Hajja, Yemeni officials said, highlighting fragile security situation less than two weeks ahead of presidential elections.

"The clashes, which have already taken place in Hajja's districts of Kishir, Washa and Mashanna, expanded to Mastaba district, claiming the lives of nearly 20 Shiite rebels and 10 Sunni gunmen during Tuesday's sectarian battles," a provincial security official told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

He said dozens from each side were seriously wounded by heavy weapons used during the fighting.

The escalation came following the failure of several attempts by tribal mediators to cease fire. Hundreds of villagers have fled their homes to remote regions.

The sectarian conflict began nearly four months ago when religious-related dispute led the Shiite group to lay siege to Damaj, a small Sunni-held town in the northern province of Saada.

The fighting spread recently from Saada to Hajja, as well as several villages in Amran province, about 50 km north of the capital Sanaa.

On Aug. 26, 2010, the Yemeni government and the Shiite group signed an agreement in Doha, Qatar, to cement a fragile cease-fire to end the on-and-off war since 2004, but clashes with local tribesmen are still rocking the region.

Exploiting the months-long protests against outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Shiite rebels, also known as Houthis, have been trying to expand their control over the country's northern provinces of Saada, Amran and Hajja, according to government officials.

In an attempt to recover from the one-year-long mass protests that have weakened the government's rule in restive provinces, the cash-stripped transitional government is gearing up for Feb. 21 presidential polls, where Saleh's deputy Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is the sole candidate in line with a UN-backed power transfer deal.

Earlier on Tuesday, Hadi officially launched his presidential campaign in Sanaa.

The Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered deal aimed to remove Saleh from office and end the months-long deteriorating security situation and violent unrest.

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