March 26, 2011 / 9:32 AM / 8 years ago

Five suspected al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

SANAA (Reuters) - Five suspected al Qaeda members were killed in a clash with Yemeni forces when they attacked a security checkpoint in the south of the Arabian Peninsula country, a local official said on Saturday.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh, facing popular demands to step down, said on Friday he would cede power to stop more bloodshed in Yemen, but only into what he called “safe hands” as tens of thousands rallied against him in “Day of Departure” protests.

State media reported three militants were killed in Lawdar in the southern Abyan province late on Friday.

Western countries are concerned al Qaeda militants could exploit any disorder arising from a messy transition if Saleh, a pivotal U.S. and Saudi ally, steps down after 32 years.

Washington and Riyadh, Yemen’s main financial backer, have long seen Saleh as a bulwark against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has tried to launch attacks in both Saudi Arabia and United States since 2009.

Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Louise Ireland

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