Rival rallies staged in fractious Yemen

Pro-Houthi demonstrators march in Sanaa while southern cities see rallies against the Shia rebels.

    Rival rallies have swept across Yemen a day after President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi stepped down rather than bow to the demands of Houthi fighters who wanted more power in the country.

    Thousands of people gathered in central Sanaa on Friday in support of the Houthis, chanting "Death to America, Death to Israel".

    The pro-Houthi protesters say Yemenis need to stay united, otherwise enemies could attack, exploit and steal the country's resources.

    There were also several rallies held across the country, in cities like Aden, Taiz, Ibb and Houdida, against the Houthi fighters, with people accusing the group of staging a coup.

    Demonstrators threatened to close ports, and warned local governments not to follow any orders from the capital Sanaa.

    With thousands of demonstrators on both sides taking to the streets across the impoverished Arab country, the Houthis appeared wary of the dangers of overstepping the mark in Yemen's minefield of tribal politics, sectarian divisions, al-Qaeda influence and a strong secessionist movement in the southern regions.

    Although Houthi gunmen manned checkpoints throughout the capital and continued besieging the houses of government ministers, they made no public attempt to fill the vacuum created by the resignations of President Hadi, his prime minister and the cabinet.

    And there were signs that the national parliament would reject the resignations when it meets on Sunday.

    Houthi demands

    In his latest speech, Houthi leader Abdel-Malik al-Houthi vowed to keep up the pressure until the government meets all his demands, including greater representation in government ministries and in a committee to rewrite the country's constitution. He stressed his group's opposition to dividing the country into six regions - a measure in the draft constitution that would diminish the resources under the Houthis' control.

    Yemeni law dictates that the parliament speaker - Yahia al-Rai, a close ally of former autocratic ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh - will now assume the presidency. Saleh, who stepped down in 2012, a year after widespread street protests, still wields considerable power and is believed to be allied with the Houthis.

    "The strong majority of people are against Houthis' expansionist move," said political analyst Omar Abdel-Aziz. "Pressure from different regions on them right now are mounting."

    The Houthis were also confronted with dissent from within their own ranks. Ali al-Bukhaiti, a prominent member of the group's political arm, resigned on Friday.

    In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Bukhaiti said the Houthis had become "the official authority" in the country. He said he wanted to work as a mediator to "lessen the political polarisation which is transforming into a regional and sectarian polarisation that threatens the whole nation with fragmentation".

    SOURCE: Agencies


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