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Yemeni protesters chant ‘stop the Houthi advance’

Hundreds of Yemenis protesters against the government’s inaction over the Shiite rebel advance on the capital Sanaa

Published: Updated:

Hundreds of Yemenis protested outside the presidential residence in Sanaa on Saturday over what they say is the inaction of authorities over a Shiite rebel advance on the capital, Agence France-Presse reported.

The demonstrators, some from Amran province north of the city where Houthi rebels, also known as Ansarullah, are clashing with the army, chanted “stop the Houthi advance!”

“I think the Houthis have taken to arms so they can take territory from Saada province to Amran, and I suspect they also want to enter Sanaa itself,” said one protester, Nadia Abdullah.

Demonstrators accuse Iran, Saleh

Some demonstrators accused Shiite Iran of supporting the rebels, while others said they suspected former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was arming them “so he can overthrow President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi.”

Clashes between the rebels and government forces eased on Saturday north of Sanaa after 48 hours of fierce fighting in which dozens of people were reported killed.

The flare-up came after the breakdown of an 11-day truce agreed after mediation backed by United Nations envoy Jamal Benomar.

Houthis have been battling the central government for years from their Saada heartland, complaining of marginalization under Saleh, who stepped down in 2012 after a year-long uprising.

In February, they seized areas of Amran province in fighting with tribes that killed more than 150 people.

The Houthis are suspected of trying to broaden their sphere of influence as Yemen is reorganized into six regions, pushing out from their mountain strongholds in the far north to areas closer to Sanaa.

They complain the country would be divided into rich and poor regions under a federalization plan agreed in February following national talks as part of a political transition.

Al-Qaeda denies Hadi’s claim

Yemen is facing a myriad of challenges as it struggles to contain widespread al-Qaeda militancy in the south of the country. In April, Yemeni troops began an offensive into an expanse of south Yemen, including Abyan and Shabwa provinces, in a campaign to root out al-Qaeda militants.

On Saturday, Islamist websites published an al-Qaeda statement on Saturday denying claims by Hadi about the vast majority of its members in the troubled country being foreigners.

“We ascertain the wrongfulness of this allegation as the vast majority of fighters are from the sons of the Muslim country who share the fraternity of religion and are rooted in their tribes,” Reuters quoted the statement as saying.

In a speech on April 29, Hadi said that around 70 percent of al-Qaeda members in the Yemen were foreigners. The army has since then said that around 500 al-Qaeda militants had been killed in its offensive, many of them foreigners.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and its offshoot, Ansar al-Sharia, have hampered the U.S.-allied country’s efforts to restore stability since a popular uprising in 2011 that forced a change in government.

(With AFP and Reuters)