ADEN/SANAA: Yemeni authorities have released 25 activists hours after they were arrested in the south following deadly clashes between police and separatists, activists said Sunday. The capital of the formerly independent South Yemen, Aden, was cautiously calm Sunday, a day after a gathering by separatists commemorating the north’s seizure of the south in 1994 turned into a gun battle. Security forces exchanged gunfire with protesters during rallies Saturday calling for the region’s secession, leaving at least four people dead, security officials said.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in cities across the country to mark the anniversary of the capture of the southern port city Aden by forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh during the country’s 1994 civil war, effectively ending the southerners’ bid to secede.
South Yemen was a separate state before it merged with North Yemen under Saleh in 1990. Many in the south still complain of discrimination and unfair treatment by the government.
There were conflicting reports about how the violence at Saturday’s rallies began. In Aden, a security official said some demonstrators in the march opened fire on soldiers, prompting the government troops to return fire. Three marchers were killed and 17 wounded in the clashes, the official said.
Mohammad Ali Ahmad, a leading figure in the secessionist movement in southern Yemen, blamed members of the former regime and extremists who infiltrated the marches for the violence.
“We are sticking to peaceful means as a strategic way to reach our goals for freedom in the south and independence,” Ahmad said.
Thousands also protested in the city of Sayoun in Hadramawt province, where clashes killed one person and wounded three, a security official said.
Separately, security forces opened fire on protesters in Hadramawt’s provincial capital of Mukalla. Protesters responded with firebombs and rocks, a security official said. No casualties were reported.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to security regulations.
Other protests in the south Saturday were peaceful, despite the presence of the army supported by tanks and armored vehicles.
Thousands also took to the streets in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa to demand that the government apologize for the 1994 civil war, saying that this could calm tensions. Some of the demonstrators carried posters that read: “A demand to investigate the crimes of 1994 and return stolen property.”
Yemen, an impoverished Arabian Peninsula state next to major shipping routes, has been in turmoil since an uprising against Saleh began last year.
Saleh stepped down in February but the divisions remain.
The U.S.-backed government is battling Al-Qaeda-linked militants who have become entrenched in parts of the south in the past year, and who have tried to use their foothold to stage attacks in Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
The Defense Ministry said Friday gunmen attacked a government building in Dalea province in the south with grenades and gunshots.
Security forces defused an explosive device in front of the tax authority building in Aden.