Woman's slipper attack sparks brawl at Yemeni rebel event

GENEVA - Fisticuffs broke out on Thursday at a Geneva press conference by Yemeni rebels when their leader was attacked by a slipper-wielding woman as the UN's mediator scrambled to revive deadlocked peace talks.

The dramatic attack underscored the deep divisions between the various sides involved in trying to get Iran-backed rebels and the Saudi-backed exiled government to agree to a badly-needed humanitarian truce.

Ansarullah member Hamza al-Houthi, who heads the rebel delegation at the talks, was addressing reporters when a woman in a headscarf barged in and threw a slipper at him.

The delegate, whose Shi'ite group is more commonly known as the Houthis, promptly threw it back.

She was quickly joined by six men who shouted slogans against the rebels and started raining blows on them, shouting: "Killers, you are spreading death and disease in South Yemen."

The melee lasted several minutes, with bottles hurled before the intruders were removed.

The woman's gesture was immediately hailed on social media in Aden, the main port city in South Yemen, with congratulatory tweets.

Once order was restored, Mr Houthi said the rebels wanted "a humanitarian truce, but it is not wanted by Saudi Arabia and its allies" who launched air strikes in Yemen on March 26.

The rebel delegate said the stalled talks would continue until yesterday.

He added: "We hope these preliminary talks will end up in some kind of accord... a transition that will hopefully lead to free, fair and transparent elections."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon launched the high-stakes negotiations on Monday with an appeal for a badly needed two-week humanitarian truce during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

The negotiations, in their fourth day, have been bogged down by the government's insistence that the rebels must withdraw from the vast territory they control, including the capital Sanaa.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2015, with the headline 'Woman's slipper attack sparks brawl at Yemeni rebel event'. Print Edition | Subscribe