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Middle East

Yemenis set for tough national dialogue

Hundreds of the state's divisive players will participate in the UN-backed talks on reconciliation.
Last Modified: 17 Mar 2013 07:32
More than 60,000 police and army troopers have been deployed in Sanaa ahead of national dialogue [AFP]

More than 500 Yemenis are set to gather on Monday at a crucial meeting in the capital Sana'a to map a new political settlement for the troubled Arabian Peninsula country.

The UN-backed national dialogue is aimed at reconciling the impoverished nation's divisive political players.

The tough talks, scheduled to run six months, bring together 565 representatives of political groups, from southern secessionists to Zaidi Shia rebels in the north, in addition to civil society representatives.

They aim to complete the daunting task of forging national reconciliation, to draft a new constitution as well as to prepare for general elections in February 2014 after a two-year transition led by President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi.

Two years after a popular revolt, which saw former president Ali Abdullah Saleh step down, problems still make a worrying list.

Major challenges

The Southern Movement seeks independence or at least autonomy for the former republic of South Yemen, which united with the north in 1990.

In the far northern highlands, the Houthis - a movement seeking to revive Yemen's Zaidi Shia tradition - fought six wars against Saleh's troops between 2004 and 2010 and are spreading their influence from their base in Saada to neighbouring provinces.

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The most powerful units in the army still appear to be split between loyalists of Saleh and his one-time ally and later rival, General Ali Mohssen.

Saleh himself is widely seen to be playing an obstructive role behind the scenes - so much so that he was singled out for a warning in a recent statement from the UN Security Council.

Many of the young activists who first took to the streets in February 2011 are less than satisfied with progress so far.

They fear that their movement, despite its role in unseating the long-ruling president, has just promoted rival political elites.

That is all leaving aside the presence of al-Qaeda fighters in the country as well as its economic woes and a looming food and water crisis.

A UN study last year found that some 10 million of the country's population of more than 24 million were "food insecure."

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