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Tensions rise in the Yemeni capital

THE LEVANT – A presidential negotiating team Sunday, August 24, abandoned talks with the Houthis, accusing them of seeking to ignite a war, as the tension-filled Yemeni capital braced for rival protests.

President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s envoys had held talks with rebel commander Abdel-Malek al-Houthi since Thursday, August 21, in a bid to persuade him to abandon protests organized by his supporters to demand the ouster of the government and reversal of fuel price increases.

But the presidential team’s spokesman, Abdul-Malek al-Mikhlafi, said the negotiations in Saada, the rebels’ stronghold in the mountains of the far north, had failed.

The rebels “rejected all the proposals presented to them,” said Mikhlafi.

“It seems like the Houthis have intentions for a war,” he added, referring to the Zaidi faction who has been fighting government troops in the northern mountains on and off since 2004.

Mikhlafi told reporters on Saturday, August 23, that his team had handed Houthi a draft proposal to form a technocrat government within a one-month period from the date of signing the accord.

And the proposal also called for the formation of an economic committee, among other points.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Salam, however, pinned the blame on authorities, saying the presidential team “had no powers” to guarantee his group’s demands.

Apart from revoking the fuel price hikes and the government’s resignation, the demands include “a partnership in all the state structures”, he said.

Rival Sana’a rallies

The political impasse sparked a mobilization on the streets as supporters of both sides called for huge rallies later on Sunday.

Thousands began pouring into the capital – Houthis in northern Sanaa and government supporters in the center.

Tens of thousands of armed rebels have set up fortified protest camps around the capital over the past week to press their demands.

One encampment is located in Sanaa’s northern district on a road leading to the airport and where the interior and other ministries are located.

Authorities, meanwhile, have stepped up security around vital installations and government buildings including the airport and the interior ministry, just 100 meters (yards) from the Houthi camp.

“We are living in constant fear of the situation deteriorating and of a scenario similar to what happened in Amran,” activist Aman al-Yafie told Agence France-Presse.

He was referring to the northern city which Houthi militants seized after deadly battles in July, before they later agreed to withdraw.

Analysts said the group is seeking to establish themselves as the dominant force in Yemen’s northern highlands and to secure a larger share of power in a future federal government.

The Zaidi Shiites, which represent a large segment of the population – over 40% – in an otherwise mainly Sunni Yemen, form the majority in the northern highlands, including the Sana’a region.

Their protest action has raised fears of new violence in Yemen, which already faces an Al-Qaeda insurgency and a campaign for renewed independence for the south.

The impoverished country has been locked in a protracted transition since long-time strongman 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 the southern separatists. –


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