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Anti-government forces advance on southern Yemen


map of yemenAnti-government forces advanced Tuesday toward President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi’s refuge of Aden in southern Yemen, fighting fierce battles with loyalist forces in which at least 30 people were killed.

The Shiite Huthi militia, backed by troops allied to former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, clashed with forces loyal to the president in at least two southern provinces as they pushed on Aden, sources said.

In another southern city, Taez, the militia shot dead five demonstrators as protests intensified against the Huthi presence.

The militiamen have seized control of large parts of Yemen and in recent days have been moving toward Aden, where Hadi fled after escaping house arrest in the capital Sanaa last month.

Yemen, a long-time US ally which borders Saudi Arabia, is increasingly divided between a north controlled by the Huthis, allegedly backed by Iran, and a south dominated by Hadi supporters.

The UN Security Council, Western countries and Gulf Arab monarchies have backed Hadi as the country’s legitimate ruler and his foreign minister called on Monday for a Gulf intervention to confront the Huthis.

Tuesday’s clashes came after the Huthis seized the airport and a nearby military base Sunday in Taez, 180 kilometres (110 miles) north of Aden and seen as a strategic entry point to Hadi’s southern refuge.

Tribal sources said at least 30 people died late Monday as the Huthis and their allies clashed with armed tribesmen loyal to Hadi in the central Baida province and in Marib, east of Sanaa.

– Ex-president troops back Huthis –

The Huthis have been increasingly joined in the fight by troops loyal to Saleh, who resigned in 2012 following nationwide protests but has been accused of allying with the Shiite militia as he seeks to regain influence.

Military sources in south Yemen said that reinforcements from the army’s Al-Hamza Brigade — still loyal to Saleh — had been sent south from central Ibb province to the town of Qatabah, some 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of Aden.

Dozens of tanks belonging to the 133rd Brigade, also loyal to Saleh, were sent to Qatabah, military sources and witnesses said.

These troops clashed with Hadi supporters in the surrounding province and took control of the headquarters of the local government in provincial capital Daleh, military and security sources said.

Clashes also erupted in the town of Kirsh, in the province of Lahj — about 75 kilometres (50 miles) northwest of Aden — where forces loyal to Hadi had deployed in anticipation of an attack.

With authorities under increasing pressure, Yemen’s acting foreign minister Riyadh Yassin said Hadi had asked for military help from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

“Hadi has asked the UN and the (GCC’s) Desert Shield force to intervene and confront the Huthis,” Yassin said Monday in an interview with Saudi-owned Al-Hadath television.

“Yemen has asked the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone on airports seized by the Huthis,” he added.

– Firing on demonstrators –

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal had on Monday warned that Arab countries may take action “to protect interests from Huthi aggression”.

The Shiite Huthis, who hail from Yemen’s mountainous north, have not been welcomed by the mainly Sunni residents in other parts of the country and have cracked down on protests against their presence.

Five people were killed and about 80 wounded when the Huthis opened fire Tuesday as demonstrators gathered for the third consecutive day to protest the militia’s arrival in Taez, a local official and medics said.

They also shot dead three others among a crowd that protested at a Huthi base in Al-Torba, just outside Taez, a local official said.

Huthi leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi in a televised speech Sunday called for his supporters to mobilise for an offensive in the south, condemning Hadi as “a puppet in the hands of forces of evil, led by the United States”.

The Huthis have clashed with Hadi loyalists, local tribes and Sunni Islamist groups including the powerful local branch of Al-Qaeda, which Washington has repeatedly targeted with drone strikes.

In its first reported attack in the country, the Sunni extremist Islamic State group claimed responsiblity for suicide bombings Friday targeting Huthi supporters that killed 142 people in Sanaa.

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