Gunmen yesterday overran security checkpoints in southern Yemen, media reported, adding to the signs of chaos in a country gripped by political uncertainty ever since President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his government quit on Thursday.
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The gunmen, from the separatist Harak movement, seized all checkpoints in Atq – the key city of Shabwa province – without resistance from government forces, independent Yemeni news site Barakish.net reported, citing a local source.
“The soldiers left the sites and returned to their camps,” the unnamed source said.
The Harak secessionists seek to reestablish the former independent state of South Yemen.
The reported takeover comes after local authorities in Shabwa said they would not longer take orders from the capital, Sana’a, which is now controlled by the powerful Houthi rebel movement.
Hadi and his government resigned, saying they could not stay in office after the Houthis failed to abide by a deal to end the country’s political crisis.
Thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of Sana’a for the second straight day on Saturday, protesting what they called a “coup” by the Houthis against the internationally recognized president.
The protests come ahead of a parliamentary meeting on the country’s deepening political stand-off.
Protesters thronged Tagheer Square, the epicenter of the 2011 uprising that eventually forced longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.
The protesters raised placards reading, “We reject the coup, whether staged by a military commander or a gang leader.”
Some of the demonstrators marched to the house of Hadi, demanding he revoke his resignation.
Minor clashes occurred between opponents and backers of the Houthis in some parts of Sana’a. No casualties were reported.
Anti-Houthi rallies were also held in the cities of Ibb and Taiz, voicing support for Hadi and his government.
Last September, the Houthis – who seek to revive the Zaydi Shi’ite traditions of Yemen’s historically dominant northern highlands – took control of most of Sana’a.
They have since swept across the country, angering local Sunni tribes and triggering attacks from the Sunni Al-Qaida militants.
Fierce clashes erupted yesterday between Houthi fighters and tribesmen in the central province of Radaa, the latest between both sides in the area over the past three months.
Yesterday’s battles in Radaa’s village of Dar al-Najd left unspecified casualties on both sides and heavily damaged houses, local residents told DPA.
The Yemeni parliament is to hold an emergency session today to discuss Hadi’s resignation and the situation in their impoverished country.
If the lawmakers accept the resignation, the Yemeni constitution provides that the speaker of parliament becomes acting president until an election can be scheduled within 60 days.
If the majority voted against it, Hadi will remain president for a further 90 days. If he then submits his resignation again, parliament must accept it.
The sudden resignation of Hadi and the government have left a political vacuum in Yemen, and raised international fears that the Arabian Peninsula country – where a dangerous Al-Qaida offshoot is based – is sliding into anarchy.