Gunmen storm Yemen ministry, seize Italian

SANAA Mon Jul 30, 2012 10:27am IST

A police patrol vehicle is seen outside the Italian embassy in Sanaa July 29, 2012. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

A police patrol vehicle is seen outside the Italian embassy in Sanaa July 29, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Khaled Abdullah

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SANAA (Reuters) - Gunmen kidnapped an Italian embassy security officer in Yemen on Sunday and some 100 armed tribesmen loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh stormed the Interior Ministry, demanding to be enlisted in the police force, officials said.

A spokesman for the Italian Foreign Ministry in Rome said a security officer who is a member of the country's Carabinieri military police had been seized in Yemen and that a crisis committee had been activated. The spokesman declined to give further details.

A security source in Yemen, who told Reuters the kidnap victim was a diplomat, said he had been near the Italian embassy when "men came by in a car and took him by force".

Earlier, tribesmen briefly held interior ministry employees hostage. They freed the ministry personnel a few hours later but continued to occupy the building, a ministry official said.

The incidents highlighted the continuing turmoil in Yemen despite a peace deal under which Saleh stood down after months of protests against his 33-year rule and was replaced in February by his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The ministry storming was a direct challenge to Hadi's authority. He is trying to restructure the armed forces and stabilise the impoverished Arab nation, where Saleh's legacy still looms large.

The Interior Ministry official said the tribesmen were Saleh loyalists, who were promised they would be enrolled in the police force in return for helping tackle last year's uprising. The promise has not been fulfilled.

"At midday, the armed tribesmen... stormed the ministry building, took control of it and climbed onto the roof with their guns," the official said. "They refuse to leave until their demands are met."

Tribesmen have fought alongside government troops in a U.S.-backed offensive against al Qaeda-linked militants that drove insurgents out of several towns in the south of the country last month. Many tribal fighters also sided with Saleh who was toppled by a popular uprising.

Disgruntled tribesmen often kidnap foreigners and bomb oil and gas pipelines as a way to press demands on authorities.

In April, officers and tribesmen loyal to Saleh forced Yemen's main airport to close for a day in protest at the sacking of the air force commander, a half-brother of Saleh.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari, additional reporting by Catherine Hornby in Rome; Writing by Andrew Hammond and Rania El Gamal; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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