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Yemeni militants seize weapons site

Islamic militants have seized control of a weapons factory, a strategic mountain and a nearby town in the southern Yemen province of Abyan as a political stalemate in the capital causes security to unravel around the country.

The fragile nation has been rocked by weeks of mass protests against the long-serving president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who refuses to step down.

Saleh's fate is of deep concern to the US as he is a key ally in the fight against al Qaida, but with his attention on massive anti-government protests in the capital, security has declined in the provinces.

Residents of the southern Abyan province said police reduced their presence in towns weeks ago. Elsewhere, residents have pushed out police and soldiers and set up their own local militias for self defence.

In the areas they took over, the militants set up checkpoints around the small factory and in the town of al-Husn, patrolling the streets and searching cars.

They also seized control of a nearby Khanfar mountain that holds a radio station and a presidential guest house, said Ali Dahmash, an expert on Islamic militant groups who lives nearby.

Residents in the nearby town of Jaar, which was seized by the militants yesterday, said they heard gunfire, but the scope of the battle wasn't immediately clear.

The area lies close to the southern port town of Aden.

In another province of Yemen, security officials say suspected al Qaida gunmen killed seven soldiers and wounded seven others in an attack on a military post. The attack took place at Ubaida area in the central Marib province, another province where the militant group is active and only under nominal government control.

Al Qaida has seized control of towns in southern Yemen before, but in the past was vigorously confronted by security forces loyal to Saleh.

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