Bomb hits Yemen capital as thousands protest Houthi takeover

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Thousands of Yemenis, including members of Yemen's Revolution Youth Council, march during a protest against recent "constitutional declaration" by the Houthi group at in Ibb, Yemen on February 07, 2015. Anadolu/Adil es-Sharee

Published Saturday, February 7, 2015

An improvised bomb exploded outside the republican palace in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Saturday and wounded three Houthi militiamen guarding it, eyewitnesses said.

The attack came a day after the Houthi militant group dissolved parliament and formally took power of the impoverished and strife-town Arabian Peninsula country.

Once the home of Yemen’s then-prime minister, the republican palace now houses Mohammed al-Houthi, a top official in the movement's military wing whose gunmen now hold sway over much of Yemen.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bomb.

But al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has repeatedly bombed and clashed with the Houthis, which it says are heretics and pawns of Iran, raising fears of a slide towards all-out sectarian conflict.

Protesters denounce “Houthi coup”

The Houthis entered Sanaa in September and began to fan out into more cities in Yemen's south and west. Armed Houthi personnel were out in force after their Friday announcement, manning checkpoints around key government buildings.

The situation escalated last month when Houthis seized one of President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi's aides in apparent protest at a draft constitution that would have divided Yemen into six federal regions which they oppose.

Yemen has been in political limbo since Hadi and the government of Prime Minister Khaled Bahah resigned after the Houthis seized the presidential palace and confined the head of state to his residence in a struggle to tighten control over the country.

The Houthi movement said on Friday it would set up a 551-member national council to replace the legislature in Yemen.

A five-member presidential council will form a transitional government for two years, the Houthis announced in a "constitutional declaration" which also mentioned a "revolutionary council" to "defend the nation."

The announcement angered many Yemenis across the country who oppose the Houthi power grab, calling it a “coup.”

On Saturday morning, Houthi gunmen fired in the air to disperse scores of people protesting against the movement's actions near Sanaa's main university.

At least five protesters were arrested by Houthi militants during the protest, eyewitnesses told Anadolu news agency.

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters took to the streets of the southwestern city of Taaizz to denounce the Houthi move to dissolve parliament and form a presidential council, pitching protest tents outside the local government building against what anti-Houthi demonstrators called "the coup d'etat," residents said.

Protests also erupted in the western city of Hudeida and in Aden, Yemen's second city in the south where the governor, Abdel Aziz bin Habtur, called the Houthi declaration "a plot against the constitution."

"We reject the authors of this coup in Sanaa," a spokesman for the influential Marib tribes, Sheikh Saleh al-Anjaf, told AFP.

Youth activists, who played a key role in the 2011 uprising that forced out veteran dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, released a statement saying they "reject the hegemony of the Houthi militia."

In the formerly independent south, where separatists are demanding autonomy, officials have vowed to defy Sanaa following the resignation of Hadi, a southerner.

International response pending

The United States and Yemen's energy-rich Gulf neighbors fear the breakdown in stability there might strengthen AQAP and unravel an international plan for a transition to democracy that has struggled to take hold since 2011 protests ousted Hadi's predecessor, Saleh.

"The unilateral declaration issued today by the Houthis does not meet the standard of a consensus-based solution to Yemen's political crisis," US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters on Friday.

In a meeting on Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry urged leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to step up their contacts with all the political sides in Yemen, after they spoke loudly about "the threat" to stability in the region from the power vacuum.

But Washington has not yet determined how to handle the "confused and fast-moving" events, a senior State Department official said, adding that it was going to hold consultations on the next steps forward.

The events have clearly taken the United States by surprise. Asked what the desired outcome was, the official replied: "We don't know yet," adding that the US was "just beginning conversations not just with the GCC, but with our other allies and in the UN."

Speaking of the outcome of the GCC meeting, a State Department official said: "There was a feeling that the international community needed to take a stronger position, either through the UN or another multilateral organization.”

Yemen’s government has allowed the United States to carry out repeated drone attacks on Al-Qaeda militants on its territory.

Human rights organizations have raised deep concerns about US drone strikes in Yemen. Critics have denounced the impact the attacks have had on Yemeni civilians, who have been killed or seen their homes destroyed.

The United States counts any male of military age killed in drone strikes as “militants,” regardless of their actual involvement with al-Qaeda.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)


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