Protests spread across Yemen a day after president, Cabinet resigns

World Today

Houthi Shiite Yemeni chant slogans during the funeral procession of fellow men killed during recent clashes with presidential guard forces in Sanaa, Yemen, Friday, Jan. 23, 2015. Photo: AP

Thousands of protesters demonstrated Friday across Yemen, some supporting the Shiite rebels who seized the capital and others demanding the country’s south secede after the nation’s president and Cabinet resigned.

President Abed Rabbo Hadi, a U.S. ally in its campaign against Yemen’s local al-Qaida branch, stepped down Thursday with his Cabinet over the pressures by Houthi rebels who demanded a bigger share of government power. Factions of southerners, who oppose the Shiite power grab and live in what was a separate country until 1990, have seized the opportunity to press their case for independence.

In Sanaa, which Houthis seized during their offensive in September, thousands of supporters converged on the capital’s airport road. They raised green flags and banners proclaiming their slogan — “Death to America, death to Israel, a curse on the Jews and victory to Islam” — a variation of a popular Iranian slogan often chanted by Shiite militants in Iraq and supporters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

The Houthis are Zaydis, a Shiite minority that makes up about a third of Yemen’s population. Their movement began as a small insurgency in Yemen’s northern Shiite heartland which battled the Yemeni army for years until 2010. After President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s ouster in 2012, he was widely suspected to have formed an alliance with his former foes and of helping the Houthis make military advances across the country.

Critics of the Houthis charge that are backed and financed by mostly Shiite Iran, a charge that they deny. In return the Houthis accuse Hadi of being in league with al-Qaida. The local al-Qaida affiliate — which has been declared by the U.S. government the most active and dangerous such group in the word — also bitterly opposes the Houthis and has battled them on several fronts.

This story is compiled with information from The Associated Press.