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Germany

German Taken Hostage in Yemen

For the fourth time this year a German has been abducted by tribesmen in Yemen. The kidnapping coincides with a visit by Yemen's president to Germany.

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German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder welcomes the President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Thursday in Berlin

Just hours after Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh began his state visit to Berlin, armed Yemeni tribesmen abducted a 46-year-old German businessman. The German, who has not been named, was kidnapped in the center of the capital Sanaa around midnight on Wednesday.

According to a Yemeni government official, "the German citizen was taken hostage... by gunmen believed to belong to the bin Dhibian tribe. They managed to escape despite efforts to stop them by security men who opened fire at their car."

The hostage, who works for a German company in Yemen, was at home when the rebels stormed his house. Guards at a neighboring building witnessed the abduction and shot at the kidnappers, but were unable to prevent them from escaping with the German.

Yemen police blocked off all roads leading into Sanaa on Thursday and detained numerous tribesmen from the rebellious Marib Province, in the east of Yemen where the kidnappers are believed to come from.

The kidnappers have not yet made their demands known.

Foreigners targeted

In the past, when foreigners have been abducted, the kidnappers have demanded the release of imprisoned tribesmen or the improvement of schools and infrastructure in exchange for freeing the hostages. The kidnappers are nearly all poor tribesmen who have taken to armed attacks on foreigners in order pressure the Yemen government into addressing their concerns and to raise international awareness of their plight.

Since the early 1990s more than 350 foreigners have been abducted by Yemeni tribesmen. Nearly all have been released unharmed.

In the past year four Germans have been taken hostage by the tribesmen. The most recent, a German diplomat, was released in September after being held for two months.

The German ministry of foreign affairs has issued several travel warnings advising tourists not to go to Yemen. In the official website, the German government says that tourists in the region are at an increased risk for abductions and armed robbery.

The German connection

So far it's not clear whether or not Wednesday's abduction is related to President Saleh's visit to Germany. It may just be a coincidence that the President arrives in Germany on the same day that a German is kidnapped. On the other hand, taking a German hostage does ensure that the German press and government look closely at the situation in Yemen.

The Yemen president arrived in Berlin on Wednesday from Washington as part of a tour of Western aid donors. Saleh is hoping to secure financial support for his country's economic reforms.

When German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer met with the Yemen president, he urged Saleh to do whatever possible to ensure a safe and quick release of the German businessman.

Several weeks ago the Yemen government passed a series of security laws aimed at reducing the number of kidnappings. Wednesday's abduction was the first since then.