SAN’A, Yemen (AP) – Security forces sealed off roads to a southern Yemeni port city on Monday and arrested dozens ahead of a separatist protest in the tense south, local officials said.
The officials said the troops were deployed to Aden, 200 miles (320 kilometers) from the capital San’a, to quell a protest by southern activists demanding secession from the north. They said that about 200 protesters were arrested as they tried to assemble in a downtown square for the rally called by the separatist Southern Movement.
The crackdown comes as tensions in southern Yemen are on the rise.
Since August, southern cities and towns have been the scene of constant demonstrations by southerners complaining of neglect and discrimination by the northerner-dominated government. The south was a separate country until it unified with the north in 1990, but separatist sentiment lingers on.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to the media, said security forces were also sent to other southern towns to prevent similar protests there. The government in San’a made no comment on the developments.
The southern unrest is separate from a five-year conflict that Yemeni troops are fighting with Shiite rebels in the country’s north, a conflict that has reignited since August and that has even drawn neighboring Saudi Arabia into the fray.
Yemen, troubled by a weak central government, is also struggling to confront a threat from Al Qaeda militants and pirates roaming the waters off its shores.
On Sunday, armed men killed three people, including a security officer, on a key highway leading to Aden, the officials said. On Monday, they said, gunmen blocked a stretch of the same highway linking San’a with Aden, leaving hundreds of vehicles and people stranded on the road.
Last Wednesday, three protesters were killed and dozens wounded in clashes with police in the southern Yemen town of Atak, according to local officials. However, lawmaker Nasser al-Kabji of the Southern Movement blamed the security forces for the violence and the tensions.
“We are a peaceful movement and reject any kind of violence,” al-Kabji told The Associated Press.