Middle East

Yemen capital gripped by huge rival protests

Protesters backing Houthi rebels rally in Sanaa as government supporters call for unity and solidarity with the cabinet.

Last updated: 29 Aug 2014 19:50
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Three days of talks last week between authorities and the Houthi rebels failed to reach a deal [AFP]

Tens of thousands of supporters of Yemen's Shia rebels have rallied in the capital Sanaa to press for the government to step down, as a large number of its backers held a counter-demonstration.

Supporters of Shia rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi have been threatening a "painful" escalation against the government which they accuse of corruption.

The UN Security Council called on the rebels to end their armed uprising and warned of sanctions.

Three days of talks last week between authorities and the Zaidi Shia rebels, known as Houthis or Ansarullah, failed to reach a deal to end the impoverished country's latest political impasse.

"The people want the fall of the government. We will not back away. We will step up the pressure," the protesters chanted as they rallied in northern Sanaa.

They massed on a road leading to Sanaa airport after the weekly Muslim prayers.

At the same time, tens of thousands of government supporters rallied in southern Sanaa, calling for unity and solidarity with the cabinet.

Houthi's followers want the resignation of the government, the scrapping of fuel price rises and a broader political partnership.

The rebels have had armed fighters camped around Sanaa for the past week and held protests almost throughout August.

UN weighs in 

In a statement adopted unanimously on Friday, the 15-member UN Security Council condemned actions by the Houthis demanding the resignation of President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi's government.

The statement called on the rebels to "cease all armed hostilities against the government of Yemen" in the northern Al-Jawf region, withdraw their forces from Amran and dismantle checkpoints and camps set up around Sanaa.

The council said targeted sanctions such as an assets freeze or travel ban could be slapped on those who threaten Yemeni stability.

It noted "with concern that the Houthis and others continue to stoke the conflict in the north in an attempt to obstruct the political transition" and called on countries to "refrain from external interference" in Yemen.

The authorities in Yemen have accused Iran of backing the Houthi uprising.

An official close to the presidency told AFP that talks between the government and the Houthis could resume on Saturday.

"A meeting is expected to take place and the presidential committee tasked with leading the dialogue will present a new approach to end the crisis," the official said.

He said the plan calls for the creation of a new government of technocrats.

Yemen has been locked in a protracted transition since long-time strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced from power in February 2012 after a deadly 11-month uprising.

Plans for a six-region federation have been rejected by both the Houthis and southern separatists, and the government is also battling al-Qaeda fighters mostly in the south and east.


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