Houthis break up protests as Yemen parliament vote postponed

Houthis break up protests as Yemen parliament vote postponed
Houthi fighters dispersed protests against against their takeover of the capital Sanaa as parliament failed to meet to as the country faces threats to its stability and cohesiveness.
3 min read
25 January, 2015
Anti-Houthi protesters took the streets in Hodeida waving the regional flag (Anadolu)

Houthi militiamen fired warning shots on Sunday to disperse a protest against their takeover of Sanaa as parliament failed to convene to discuss President Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi's resignation, prolonging a dangerous power vacuum in Yemen.

Hadi, a key US ally in the fight against al-Qaeda's Yemen-based deadly franchise, tendered his resignation along with Prime Minister Khalid Bahah on Thursday, saying he could no longer stay in office as Yemen was in "total deadlock".

The predominantly Zaydi Shia Houthi militia, who have controlled most of the capital since September, overran the presidential palace last week prompting Hadi to tender his resignation, shortly after Bahah quit.

As demonstrators began to gather near Sanaa University early on Sunday to protest against the increasing Houthi control, the militiamen fired warning shots to disperse them and made several arrests.

The militiamen also attacked journalists and smashed their cameras, deploying in force around the university to prevent any renewed protest.

On Saturday, thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of Sanaa in the biggest demonstration to date against the Houthis.

The crisis in the Arabian Peninsula country escalated on January 17 when the Houthis seized Hadi's chief of staff, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, in an apparent bid to extract changes to a draft constitution they oppose.

The Houthis still hold Mubarak and maintain a tight grip on the capital despite a deal struck late on Wednesday to end what authorities called a coup attempt.

The fall of Hadi's Western-backed government would raise fears of complete chaos engulfing Yemen, strategically located next to oil-rich Saudi Arabia and on the key shipping route from the Suez Canal to the Gulf.

Parliament fails to convene

On Sunday, parliament for a second time postponed an extraordinary session which had been due to discuss Hadi's resignation.

Parliament "has decided to postpone an emergency meeting set to take place on Sunday... to another date which will be decided later to make sure all members are informed to attend," state news agency Saba reported.

Lawmakers had originally been due to meet on Friday to discuss his request to step down.

Parliament speaker Yahya al-Raie travelled to neighbouring Saudi Arabia to offer his condolences on the death of King Abdullah on Friday, but he was back home on Sunday.

The Houthi militiamen, who hail from Yemen's nothern highlands and belong to the Zaydi branch of Shia Islam, have surrounded the parliament building since late Thursday, two days after they seized control of the presidential palace.

The Houthis have also encircled Hadi's residence and those of several ministers.

"We are under house arrest," a minister of state in the resigned government, Hassan Zaid, himself a Zaydi, told AFP.

No security

The Houthis blocked off a convoy of armed Sunni tribesmen who arrived in Sanaa on Saturday from attempting to free top officials, tribal sources said.

The latest developments have fuelled fears of paralysis in the central administration, with government employees unsure if they will be paid at the end of this month.

"There is no security and no business as people are afraid of buying anything in this situation. I'm having to close my shop early every day," said Ahmed al-Qasabi, a shop owner in central Sanaa.

Queues have formed outside petrol stations for fear of the worsening security triggering shortages.

Oxfam warned that 16 million Yemenis - more than half the population - are in need of aid.

"A humanitarian crisis of extreme proportions is at risk of unfolding in the country if instability continues," the aid group said.

In the country's south, a soldier was killed and three others were wounded as troops prevented members of the southern separatist movement Herak from setting up a checkpoint in the main city of Aden, security officials and witnesses said.