Yemen fighting kills 36 troops, 25 militants

Associated Press
Protestors attend prayers during a rally demanding the trial of Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa, Yemen, Friday, March 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
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SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni officials say at least 36 soldiers and 25 al-Qaida fighters have been killed in fighting in the southern province of Abyan.

A military official said Sunday's fighting was taking place at a military base west of Abyan's provincial capital of Zinjibar, held by militants since May. The fighters overran the base and captured heavy weapons that were turned on the soldiers, he says.

A health official confirmed the toll. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The violence in Abyan highlights the challenges facing Yemen after a year of political turmoil that has allowed al-Qaida to seize several towns in the nearly lawless south and withstand repeated army offensives to retake them.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Intense clashes erupted on Sunday between Yemeni soldiers and al-Qaida fighters in the southern province of Abyan, killing at least 30 government troops and 14 of the militants, military officials said.

The officials said the fighting was taking place west of Abyan's provincial capital of Zinjibar, held by militants since May.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The violence in Abyan highlights the challenges facing Yemen after a year of political turmoil that has allowed al-Qaida to seize several towns in the lawless south and withstand repeated army offensives to retake them.

A Defense Ministry statement said the fighting began when militants detonated "booby trapped vehicles" at an army base in the region of Koud near Zinjibar. The statement suggested that the base was overrun by the militants before army forces regrouped and took it back.

It said there were casualties on both sides but gave no figures.

Newly inaugurated President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi meanwhile said in a televised speech that fighting al-Qaida in Yemen and restoring security in the impoverished Arab nation were among his top priorities.

Last month, President Hadi succeeded longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, who during his more than 30 years in power tolerated radical Islamic groups as part of a delicate balancing act that kept at bay threats to his authority in the fractured nation.

There has been a surge in attacks blamed on al-Qaida after Hadi's inauguration.

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