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Yemeni government attempts to clear Houthi protest camps - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Followers of the Shi'ite Houthi movement flee as riot police use water cannons and tear gas to disperse them along a main road leading to the airport in Sana'a, Yemen, on September 7, 2014. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Followers of the Shi’ite Houthi movement flee as riot police use water cannons and tear gas to disperse them along a main road leading to the airport in Sana’a, Yemen, on September 7, 2014. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—One protester was killed and 40 were injured when clashes erupted between Yemeni security forces and Houthi protesters in the Yemeni capital on Sunday.

The clashes occurred when government forces attempted to clear protestors off the road to Sana’a airport, and after protestors approached government ministries in the north of the capital.

Press reports say the attempt to clear the protestors off the airport road failed, with the Houthis reoccupying the site after briefly being driven off by riot police armed with tear gas, water cannons, and bulldozers. A hospital official said one protester died of the effects of tear gas inhalation.

The Houthi’s Protest Organization Committee said on Sunday that security forces “attacked protesters in Sana’a with live bullets and tear gas,” and that the attack was “an unjustified, criminal oppressive act.”

An eyewitness, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “dozens of protesters were choked by the tear gas amid intense gunfire,” and that he escaped after dozens of Houthis started to use Kalashnikovs hidden in their camps.

One eyewitness said: “Security forces withdrew to the perimeters of the camps and stationed themselves near the Interior Ministry, hours after the clashes.”

The Houthis blamed the government for the violence. A spokesman for the movement, Mohammad Abdul-Salam, said in a statement on Sunday that people had the right to self-defense when the authorities crossed the line.

He accused the security forces of using US-made tear gas canisters, “which exposed the nature of the relationship between the government and the US,” and that the protests would continue “until all objectives are achieved.”

The Houthis have been occupying sites around Sana’a since mid-August. Their demands include the resignation of the government and the restoration of fuel subsidies that were recently abolished as part of an economic reform package. So far, attempts to mediate the dispute have failed, with the Houthis rejecting a recent compromise proposal put forward by Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

Meanwhile, 13 Houthi fighters were killed in government airstrikes in Al-Jawf province, government sources told reporters.

Regional powers urged calm in the wake of the latest escalation, and expressed their support for Yemeni sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Meanwhile, the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) expressed total support for Yemeni stability and unity.

Abdullatif Al-Zayani said the GCC’s member states rejected any actions which threatened the peace and security of Yemen. Zayani said in a telephone call to the Yemeni president on Sunday that “the GCC stands firmly behind Yemen to help it out of its current crisis.”

Iranian government spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham said meanwhile that Iran “continuously supported Yemeni unity and stability.”

The Iranian Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA, quoted Afkham as saying: “The foreign policy of the Islamic Republic is built on wisdom and moderation, non-interference in the internal affairs of others, fighting extremism, terrorism and sectarianism, and supporting the legitimate rights of people.”

The Yemeni president, who has blamed Iranian interference for stoking the crisis in the Yemen, urged the Yemeni constitution drafting committee to prepare the first draft of the country’s new constitution as quickly as possible in order to put it to the vote, and hold new presidential and parliamentary elections.