SHAFAQNA – Tens of thousands of supporters of Yemen’s Shiite rebels demonstrated in the capital Sanaa on Wednesday, threatening escalation which their leader vowed would be “painful”, an AFP correspondent reported. “The people want the government out,” chanted protesters gathered in Sanaa’s northern district, shunning a plea by President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi on Tuesday for the rebels to disperse. “We will not back away. Our people will step up the pressure,” they called out, waving flags of the General People’s Congress — the party still headed by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The protesters, rallying on a road leading to Sanaa airport, brandished portraits of Syria’s embattled president Bashar al-Assad and of Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Shiite Lebanese militia Hezbollah, an AFP correspondent said. Shiite rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi on Tuesday threatened a “third phase of escalation”, pledging it will be “more painful and worrying” to authorities.
Three days of talks last week between authorities and the Zaidi Shiite rebels, known as Huthis or Ansarullah, failed to reach a deal to end the impoverished country’s latest political impasse. Huthi’s followers want the resignation of the government they accuse of corruption, the cancellation of a recent fuel price rise and a broader political partnership. The rebels have mobilised armed fighters camped out around Sanaa for the past week, while civilian activists have staged a sit-in near the interior ministry inside the capital. Huthi announced last Friday the start of the “second phase” of escalation during which his supporters set up camps on the road where several ministries are located. The fresh threats came after President Hadi urged Huthi on Tuesday to withdraw his militant followers from the capital following the failure of the negotiations. UN special envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar has said the situation is “very worrying” and warned all sides that “a way out of the crisis is through concerted and peaceful effort”. The impoverished country has been locked in a protracted transition since long-time strongman Saleh was forced from power in February 2012 after a deadly 11-month uprising.