Yemen unrest: Army offensive in Abyan kills militants

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At least 18 militants have been killed in an army offensive aimed at capturing the capital of the southern province of Abyan, Yemen's defence ministry says.

Militants linked to al-Qaeda were pushed back on Thursday from positions near Zinjibar, a statement said.

At least 250 militants and 37 soldiers had died since the offensive began two weeks ago in nearby Lawdar, it added.

The militants seized large parts of Abyan last year. Troops have suffered major losses trying to push them out.

Last month, a series of suicide attacks and armed assaults by Ansar al-Sharia left more than 100 people dead, most of them soldiers.

Ansar al-Sharia, or Partisans of Islamic law, was founded by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in response to the growing youth movement in Yemen, which has marginalised Salafi-jihadists who advocate the violent overthrow of the government.

In November, protesters forced President Ali Abdullah Saleh to hand over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, as part of a deal brokered by the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC).

Mr Hadi was elected president in February and immediately said one of his most important tasks was the "continuation of war against al-Qaeda as a religious and national duty".

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