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No plans to bolster US forces in Mideast: Panetta
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Sept 16, 2012

Yemenis shun call to protest deployment of US Marines
Sanaa (AFP) Sept 16, 2012 - Yemenis on Sunday ignored calls to protest the deployment of US Marines at the US embassy in Sanaa just days after demonstrators stormed the compound to protest an anti-Islam film produced in the United States.

Sunday's planned demonstration in front of Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi's residence in the capital was cancelled by organisers, the Huthi rebel movement from the north, after people failed to show up, an AFP correspondent at the scene reported.

The Huthis are believed to have participated in the violent protests outside the US embassy last Thursday which left four people dead.

On Friday, the US deployed a Marines anti-terrorism unit to Yemen to help protect the American embassy, a move that was condemned by the Yemeni parliament, saying it was up to the government to provide security for foreign embassies.

Security around the embassy remained tight on Sunday with all access roads to and from the heavily fortified compound blocked by security forces.

US Consular services also remained closed for the second day Sunday.

Protests over a trailer for the anti-Islam film on YouTube first broke out Tuesday in Egypt and Libya, where the US consulate in Benghazi came under attack by an armed mob killing the US ambassador and three other Americans.

The protests have since spread across other Arab and Muslim countries.

The low-budget movie "Innocence of Muslims," in which actors have strong American accents, portrays Muslims as immoral and gratuitously violent.

It pokes fun at the Prophet Mohammed and touches on themes of paedophilia and homosexuality, while showing him sleeping with women, talking about killing children and referring to a donkey as "the first Muslim animal."

The US military has no major plans to bolster its forces in the Middle East despite a week of violent protests targeting diplomatic outposts, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sunday.

With a substantial force already deployed in the region coupled with two US Marine counter-terrorism teams sent to Libya and Yemen, the military has the ability to respond as necessary to protect American diplomats, Panetta told reporters before arriving in Tokyo on an Asian tour.

"We do have a major presence in the region," he said.

"Having said that we've enhanced that with FAST (Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team) teams and others so that if they are requested, they can respond more quickly."

But the Pentagon chief said at the moment there was not a need for dispatching additional forces to the region beyond what was requested by the State Department to safeguard diplomatic outposts.

"I don't anticipate a situation right now where we would have to do something on our own," he said.

"Our approach right now is not do anything unless requested by the State Department."

Two 50-strong US Marine counter-terrorism units were sent to Libya and Yemen after Tuesday's assault in Benghazi to safeguard embassies there.

Panetta praised the Libyan government's efforts to strengthen security at US missions and search for those behind the deadly attack on Tuesday against the American consulate in Benghazi.

"I think they are making a strong effort to try to respond to this crisis and deal with the issues involved."

The assault, in which security teams were overwhelmed by heavily-armed gunmen, killed the US ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his staff, in the worst attack on an American diplomatic mission since the 1970s.

Asked if Al-Qaeda militants were to blame for the assault in Benghazi, Panetta said: "That remains to be determined. That's part of what the investigation will determine."

But he said that Al-Qaeda's branches in North Africa remained a serious threat and the United States would keep up relentless pressure on the extremists.

"We have to continue to go after Al-Qaeda wherever they are and whatever affiliates they have that are engaged in terrorism," said Panetta, who served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency before taking over at the Defense Department.

As protests spread over an inflammatory American-made film from Tunisia to Indonesia, US plans to send a Marine unit to protect the embassy in Sudan had to be dropped after the Sudanese government rejected the US request, the official SUNA news agency reported.

Guards on the roof of the embassy fired warning shots on Friday as the compound was breached by protesters waving Islamic banners, after earlier ransacking parts of the British and German missions in the Sudanese capital.

Panetta expressed cautious optimism that the violence had begun to recede.

"Today there continue to be some demonstrations. It would appear there's some levelling off of the violence that we thought might take place," he said.

But he added "We will have to remain very vigilant."

Panetta's week long trip, with stops in Tokyo, Beijing and Auckland, marks the latest attempt to shift US policy towards the Asia-Pacific, but the attack in Libya illustrated how Washington is continually drawn back to crises in the Middle East.


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