Yemen Huthis disperse protest with live rounds as more embassies shut

Armed Huthis gather around the wreckage of a vehicle set a blaze by angry protesters after Huthis fired on them in Yemen's central town of Ibb Feb 14, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Armed Huthis gather around the wreckage of a vehicle set a blaze by angry protesters after Huthis fired on them in Yemen's central town of Ibb Feb 14, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SANAA (AFP) - Shi'ite militiamen behind a power grab fired live rounds to disperse thousands of protesters in central Yemen on Saturday, as security fears prompted more foreign governments to close their embassies in Sanaa.

In the Saudi capital Riyadh, foreign ministers of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries were holding an extraordinary meeting, with Gulf sources saying they would discuss developments in their impoverished neighbour.

Home to Al-Qaeda's deadliest branch and a key US ally in the fight against the group, Yemen has descended into chaos since the militia, known as Huthis, seized Sanaa in September.

Matters worsened last week when they ousted the government.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that Yemen is falling apart and called for Western-backed President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who resigned last month in protest at growing unrest sparked by the Huthis, to be restored to power.

In the city of Ibb, which the militia have held since last year, protesters chanted: "Huthi, Iran: Yemen is not Lebanon!", in reference to predominantly Shi'ite Iran's alleged support for the militia.

They also shouted slogans against Russia, which is thought to be reluctant to take a hard line against the Huthis at the UN Security Council.

Witnesses said the Huthis fired warning shots to disperse the protest, wounding at least six people.

Similar demonstrations took place in the Shi'ite-populated city of Dhammar which is also under Huthi control, and the southern city of Daleh, where protesters demanded political parties end their UN-brokered talks with the militia in Sanaa.

In the capital, hundreds protested describing the militia as "gangs that could not build a state".

PROTESTERS 'TORTURED'

Meanwhile, the family of demonstrator Saleh Awadh al-Bashiri, detained by the Huthis Wednesday at a protest against their takeover said he had died from torture wounds suffered in captivity.

Another two protesters who were held with him have also been hospitalised after they were found wounded and left on a street.

The families posted pictures on social media they said were of their sons showing parts of their bodies bruised and swollen from beatings.

On Sunday, the Huthis announced a ban on all demonstrations against them unless they are authorised by the interior ministry, which itself is now under their control.

The militiamen have been accused of attacking and detaining protesters as well as reporters covering demonstrations against their seizure of power.

Diplomatically, more countries shut their embassies, with Spain and the United Arab Emirates becoming the latest to announce Saturday they had suspended operations at their missions in Sanaa.

The UAE foreign ministry said it has also evacuated all staff, following a similar move by Sunni-dominated GCC leader Saudi Arabia.

"This decision comes in light of the increasingly deteriorating political and security situation" and the "unfortunate events with the Huthis undermining legitimate authority in the country," the UAE said in a statement carried by the official WAM news agency.

The United States, France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the Netherlands have also closed their embassies and withdrawn staff because of security fears.

And Spain said it was temporarily suspending embassy activity in Yemen "in light of the current situation of insecurity and instability in Sanaa".

The embassy had advised all Spanish citizens to "temporarily" leave Yemen, the foreign ministry said.

And the Turkish foreign ministry "strongly" advised Turks in Yemen to leave.

The Huthis had said Western powers had no reason to shut their embassies, insisting that security was solid in the capital.

Teheran had also criticised the "hasty action" of closing the embassies, insisting the Huthis were fighting "corruption and terrorism".

Following consultations in New York on Thursday, Britain said it would work with Jordan on a resolution to outline the Security Council's stance on Yemen.