Soldiers kidnapped in south Yemen
Aden - Angry protests erupted in secessionist hotspots in south Yemen and gunmen kidnapped seven soldiers at the weekend after a southerner was sentenced to death on Saturday for a bombing in Aden in October.
Local officials said four soldiers were kidnapped on Saturday in the towns of Dalea and al-Habilayn, and three more, including one officer, were snatched on Sunday, again in Dalea.
Widespread protests have paralysed the towns, both southern secessionist strongholds, since a court handed down a death sentence to Faris Abdullah Saleh for bombing an Aden sports club in October, a month before the port city was due to host a regional soccer tournament, the Gulf Cup.
State media had reported that Saleh had carried out the bombing for a leader of the secessionist Southern Movement. Four people died in the attack.
Hours after the sentencing on Saturday, demonstrators cut off a main road connecting Aden to the capital Sana'a and on Sunday forced shops and restaurants in Dalea to close, local officials said.
"Those behind these kidnappings are armed citizens who are angry at the detention of their children and relatives in state prisons, among them the man sentenced to death on Saturday for the bombing of the sports club in Aden," Nasser al-Khubaggi, a leading member of the Southern Movement, told Reuters by phone.
Khubaggi denied the movement itself was behind the kidnappings. The Southern Movement says it is peaceful, but there is regular violence between armed activists and security forces.
Earlier this year, mounting violence in southern Yemen, from separatist ambushes to battles with security forces, raised fears of a sustained insurgency in what was once a Soviet-backed, socialist state.
North and south formally united in 1990 but some in the south, home to many of Yemen's oil facilities, say northerners have since seized resources and discriminated against them.