Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Houthi movement continued to expand its grip on Yemen on Tuesday after taking control of a strategic port city in the country’s western region, while secessionists in the south called for independence, staging massive protests and sit-ins in the southern port city of Aden.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, eyewitnesses said armed Houthis were now in virtual control of the city of Hudaydah, home to Yemen’s second-biggest port and its largest oil refinery, and capital of Hudaydah province, having seized the city’s harbor and its civil and military airports.
Local sources told Asharq Al-Awsat the movement deployed thousands of its members throughout the city, and the whole of the Hudaydah province, setting up several security checkpoints in a repeat of a strategy used during the group’s takeover of the country’s capital, Sana’a, on September 20.
Yemeni military sources said the armed Houthis that spread throughout Hudaydah on Tuesday had not been resisted by official security or military forces, and had been seen on the city’s streets wearing military uniforms.
Other reports say the Shi’ite group has now also spread to nine other governorates in the country’s north, as well as the Dhamar province, 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Sana’a.
A local tribal source from the oil-rich province of Ma’rib, which lies approximately 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Sana’a, told AFP news agency the Houthis had now also entered Ma’rib city, the province’s capital, coming by air from Sana’a airport.
The group seized control of a number of official state, media and military buildings and the main airport in Sana’a on September 20 following a month-long series of mass protests and sit-ins demanding the resignation of the government and reinstatement of fuel subsidies.
Following a UN-brokered agreement on September 21 between the Houthis and President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, it was agreed the group would remove its forces from their current locations, handing back all weapons seized from military installations, in return for the nomination of a new prime minister and a major cut in fuel prices.
Hadi named former aide Ahmed Al-Mubarak as prime minister last week, but Mubarak declined the nomination following his rejection by the Houthis. On Monday Hadi appointed the country’s UN representative, Khaled Bahah, as the new premier, a choice which met with agreement from the Houthis.
Despite the UN-brokered agreement, the Houthis have continued to seize more official state buildings and expand their presence throughout Sana’a, and now the rest of the country, in what many, including President Hadi, see as a “foreign plot,” with Iran usually mentioned as the main culprit.
Meanwhile, marking the 51st anniversary of an uprising against British rule, thousands of members of the secessionist Al-Hirak movement massed on the streets of Yemen’s most important port city Aden on Tuesday, vowing to stay there in an “open sit-in” until the government agreed to restore the former independent state of South Yemen, which merged with North Yemen in 1990.
Eyewitnesses said hundreds of cars had entered the city coming from Abyan, Hadhramaut and Shabwah, with a large mass of people converging on one of the city’s main squares carrying the flags of the former state of South Yemen and shouting slogans calling for its restoration and independence from the North.
In a statement to the group’s supporters, Al-Hirak leader Hassan Ba’oum said: “These crowds . . . that have been determined in their sustained peaceful struggle for years have today taken genuine revolutionary action to affirm the legitimate right of the people of the South.”