Shiite rebels fired bullets and tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters demanding they withdraw from a southern province, killing six demonstrators, wounding scores more and escalating tensions in a country on the verge of civil war.
The rebels, known as Houthis, seized the capital Sanaa in September and have been advancing south alongside forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In recent days they have closed in on the southern port city of Aden, where the internationally recognized President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is now based.
Massive protests were held in the third largest city of Taiz — which the rebels largely seized over the weekend — and in Torba, some 60 miles away, where witnesses said the streets were filled with thick black smoke from burning tires and where protesters torched three armored vehicles.
“Torba turned into a ball of fire,” said Khaled al-Asswadi, a resident. He said the protesters managed to prevent the Houthis from advancing into the city.
A medical official said six protesters were killed and dozens wounded in Torba. Local activists posted pictures on social media of what they said were dead protesters, their clothes drenched in blood.
Another witness, Mohammed Salem, said that Houthis and Saleh’s forces fired anti-aircraft guns to scare off the protesters, “but the number of protesters increased instead.” In a statement, Yemen’s Socialist Party warned that the Houthis’ invasion of the mostly Sunni south would set off a “sectarian war.”
Taiz is Yemen’s third largest city and the birthplace of the Arab Spring-inspired uprising in 2011, which forced Saleh to hand over power to Hadi in a deal brokered by the U.N. and Gulf countries the following year.
Report by The Associated Press.