Yemen crisis: thousands join anti-Houthi protests

Yemen crisis: thousands join anti-Houthi protests
Thousands of people take to the streets of Yemen's capital and other cities including Taiz, Ibb and Hodeida in protest at Houthi takeover of Sanaa, following the resignation of President Hadi and the Yemeni government on Thursday.
4 min read
24 January, 2015
Anti-Houthi protesters have taken to the streets across Yemen (AFP)
Thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of Sanaa on Saturday in the largest demonstration against the Houthis since the militia overran the capital in September.

"Down, down with the Houthis' rule," chanted the protesters who rallied following a call by the Rejection Movement - a group recently formed in provincial areas to challenge the powerful militia.

Dozens of Houthi supporters tried to stop the demonstration, triggering a brief scuffle before they left, as the numbers of protesters kept increasing, an AFP correspondent reported.

Demonstrators gathered in Change Square near the University of Sanaa before they headed for the Republican Palace, in central Sanaa, according to organisers.

The palace is the residence of Prime Minister Khalid Bahah, who left it on Wednesday for an unknown destination after a two-day siege by the predominantly Zaydi Shia militia.

But the protesters changed their route and headed toward the residence of embattled President Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi to express their "rejection of his resignation," according to the organising committee.

The demonstrators were also demanding that Hadi "impose the authority of the state" in face of the tightening grip of Houthis on power, they said.

Hadi tendered his resignation on Thursday saying he could no longer stay in office as the country was in "total deadlock".

Houthi gunmen backed by armoured vehicles were deployed along Sittin Street, where the president lives, but they only watched on as the protesters marched and did not attempt to stop them.

Large demonstrations also took off in the cities of Taiz, Ibb and Hodeida, organisers said.

South out of Sanaa's control

Meanwhile, in southern Yemen, secessionist gunmen on Saturday seized all police checkpoints in Ataq, the capital of Shabwa province, without facing any resistance, witnesses said.

Policemen were told to give up their weapons and return to their bases, before the militiamen raised flags of the formerly independent South Yemen at the checkpoints.

The move comes after other southern cities and provinces declared they would disobey the central government in Sanaa.

A committee in charge of military and security in four southern provinces, including the former South Yemen capital of Aden instructed troops and police to take orders from provincial governers and the fourth military region command in Aden.

Officers of the fourth military command are loyal to Hadi, himself a southerner.

Gunmen from the Popular Committees, which fought alongside government forces against al-Qaeda in the past, have deployed in many areas, mainly Aden.

Hussein al-Wahishi, a chief of the Popular Committees, said some 3,000 fighters were stationed in Aden, including its port and airport.

The committees were coordinating with the security committee and military regional command, he said.

"We have set up checkpoints to protect the city from gunmen, whether Houthis, or Qaeda militants," he said.

Parliament vote expected

Parliament is set to hold an extraordinary meeting on Sunday to discuss Hadi's resignation offer, which needs to be approved by lawmakers to take effect.

After heavy fighting between government forces and the Houthis this week that killed at least 35 people, the UN Security Council and Yemen's Gulf neighbours had all voiced support for Hadi's continued rule.

The situation escalated a week ago when the militiamen seized Hadi's chief of staff, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, in an apparent bid to extract changes to a draft constitution they oppose because it would divide Yemen into six federal regions.

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.

In return for concessions over the disputed draft constitution, the Houthis had pledged to vacate the presidential palace, free Mubarak, withdraw from areas surrounding the residences of Hadi and Bahah, and abandon checkpoints across the capital.

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.