Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Pro and anti-government protests continued on the streets of Sana’a on Friday amid a heightened security presence as the central government renewed its efforts to communicate with rebels.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets on Saturday across the country in response to a call by the pro-government Popular Alignment Body to express support for President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.
In Sana’a, pro-government protestors marched near Hadi’s residence chanting anti-violence slogans and condemning Houthi rebels for blocking streets and carrying out attacks on public and private property.
Meanwhile, supporters of the Shi’ite Houthi Movement on Friday held funeral processions for seven of its supporters who were killed last week in clashes with Yemeni government forces. Thousands of Houthis gathered on the road leading to Sana’a’s airport demanding the overthrow of Hadi’s government, the reversal of a controversial fuel subsidy cut and the formation of a technocratic government.
Houthis supporters condemned the recent government crackdown on what they claimed were “peaceful” protests, pledging to exact retribution against “murderers,” in reference to government security forces that have allegedly targeted Houthis.
Yemeni security and military forces stepped up their presence in Sana’a “in anticipation of any acts that could compromise security,” Ministry of Interior spokesman Gen. Mohamed Al-Qaedi told Asharq Al-Awsat.
He confirmed that talks are underway between government and Houthi rebels to reach a solution to end the wide-scale protests that have brought the capital to a standstill.
President Hadi has set up a new delegation to negotiate with leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi to reach a settlement that will secure the Houthis withdrawal from the capital.
Houthis have refused to engage in talks with the delegation led by a senior Sana’a official, Abdul Qadir Hilal, Asharq Al-Awsat has learnt.
In eastern Yemen, a key electricity grid in Ma’rib came under mortar fire from Houthi gunmen in the second such attack this week, Yemen’s electricity company announced on Friday.
On the political level, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has appointed an ambassador to Sana’a, a well-informed diplomatic official told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Ambassador Mohamed Said Al Jaber arrived in Sana’a on Friday; no official announcement has yet been made.
The last Saudi ambassador to Yemen was Ali Hamdan who served until 2013. Citing safety reasons, Saudi Arabia took the decision last year to reduce diplomatic staff in Sana’a as Yemen plunged into chaos.
The diplomatic official, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to brief the media, denied that the reduction in staff had affected the embassy’s performance.
The official also denied reports of Saudi restrictions on issuance of Hajj and Umra visas at the Sana’a embassy.
Hamdan Al-Rahbi contributed reporting from Sana’a. Nayef Al-Rasheed contributed reporting from Riyadh.