In Yemen, over three decades of authoritarianism are unraveling in a bloody maelstrom. The regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh has brutally staved off protests against its rule, fueled by frustrations over a lack of political freedoms in the country and the perceived graft of Saleh’s family and cronies. At least 350 people have died in violence since the upheaval commenced early this year.
And since TIME’s Yury Kozyrev visited the country in May, the situation has deteriorated even further. Saleh has so far rebuffed international appeals for him to step down. All the while, key allies, including prominent generals, have defected. For days in the capital Sana’a, the militia of an influential tribe now aligned against Saleh have engaged government troops in firefights across the shattered city. In the southern city of Taiz, Saleh’s soldiers and snipers reportedly gunned down dozens of marching protesters. Yet the army appears divided, and the arm of the state — weak at the best of times — appears to have withdrawn from large tracts of this fractious, impoverished country. Militants allegedly connected to al-Qaeda’s wing in the Arabian Peninsula seized hold of the coastal town of Zinjibar early this week.
This slide into chaos has been many in the years in the making — Yemen’s politics in recent times prove a tragicomedy of venal elites, ambitious coup-plotters and careless empires. Yet, as I wrote last year, the nation’s history is one of the richest and most ancient of the Arab world. Kozyrev’s photos shine a light on a country convulsed by violence, steeped in danger, seeking a way out.