WASHINGTON – The State Department on Wednesday ordered nonessential U.S. diplomats to depart Yemen and urged all Americans there to leave as security conditions deteriorated with the country’s embattled leader refusing to step down.
The decision to tell most nonessential personnel and the families of all American staff at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa to leave was a sign of Washington’s increasing concern about the situation in Yemen, where street battles between supporters and opponents of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh raged for a third day. The clashes have left at least 41 dead and dozens badly injured.
“The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high due to terrorist activities and civil unrest,” the State Department said in its advisory. “There is ongoing civil unrest throughout the country and large-scale protests in major cities.”
It noted that violent clashes were occurring in Sanaa, the capital, and “may escalate without notice.”
The notice came in a new travel warning for Yemen released as the Obama administration stepped up calls for Saleh to transfer power under an agreement negotiated by neighboring Persian Gulf states.
Speaking in London earlier Wednesday, President Barack Obama called on Saleh to “move immediately” to implement the agreement. Saleh has balked three times at following through on verbal commitments to step down.
The earlier U.S. travel alert for Yemen issued in March had allowed nonessential embassy staff and their families to leave at government expense. It had also urged Americans not to go to Yemen but had only told those already in the country to consider leaving.
The new alert followed a defiant message from Saleh, who vowed not to step down or allow Yemen to become a “failed state.” His stance, combined with renewed fighting, sharply increased chances that Yemen’s three-month uprising could turn into a militia-led revolt after Arab mediation failed to crack Saleh’s 32-year authoritarian rule.
“I will not leave power and I will not leave Yemen,” a spokesman, Ahmed al-Soufi, quoted Saleh as saying.