Yemen weapons factory hit by deadly explosions

Witnesses said the blasts caused a massive fire

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A series of huge explosions at an ammunition plant in southern Yemen has killed at least 78 people, doctors say.

The factory in the town of Jaar was raided by Islamist militants on Sunday amid clashes with government forces.

At the time of Monday's blasts residents were in the plant looting ammunition. The dead included women and children, officials said.

Yemen has been rocked by weeks of protests calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

It is not clear what caused Monday's explosions, which could be heard 10 miles (15km) away.

Locator map
'Burned bodies'

The factory, in the Khanfar area, close to Jaar city, makes munitions and Kalashnikov rifles, according to AP news agency. Ambulances have been bringing the injured to Jaar's al-Razi hospital.

"This accident is a true catastrophe, the first of its kind in Abyan," a doctor told Reuters news agency.

"There are so many burned bodies. I can't even describe the situation."

Doctors said counting the dead was almost impossible because the force of the explosion had left the remains of people so badly charred.

Reuters reported that scores of people were wounded, and many bodies remained inside the factory, which also contained stores of gunpowder.

Economic and social problems

  • Poorest country in the Middle East - 40% live on less than $2 a day
  • More than two-thirds of the population under the age of 24
  • Illiteracy 50%, unemployment 40%
  • Dwindling oil reserves and falling oil revenues; little inward investment
  • Acute water shortage
  • Weak central government

The authorities said fighters from the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula group raided the factory on Sunday, stealing carloads of weapons.

Analysts fear that the group, which claims affiliation with Osama Bin Laden's militant network, is taking advantage of instability caused by the spate of anti-government protests.

The Yemeni government has been a key US ally in the region, conducting numerous joint anti-terror raids. Despite this, militancy has continued to flourish.

Opposition leader Yassin Noman told the BBC there had been a "collapse of security" in the country.

"This regime is unable now to control the country," he said, calling for the government to quit.

As well as the militant threat, Yemen is chronically poor - unemployment runs at about 40%, and there are rising food prices and acute levels of malnutrition.

The country has also been plagued by a range of security issues, including a separatist movement in the south and an uprising of Shia Houthi rebels in the north.

Yemen troublespots

Map of Yemen

Saada: Truce between government and Houthi rebels agreed in 2010 after six years of fighting. Occasional clashes and anti-government protests continue.

Sanaa: 2011: Anti-government demonstrations in capital. President declares state of emergency. On 18 March, police snipers kill more than 50 people in pro-democracy camp.

Abyan and Shabwa provinces: Major fields of operation for al-Qaeda. 2010: Government offensive against separatists forces thousands of people to flee.

Aden: 2011: As in Sanaa, thousands have joined anti-government protests. Port was scene of USS Cole suicide attack on USS Cole in 2000.

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