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Thousands of Saleh supporters rally in Yemen amid Houthi rift

  • Published at 02:19 pm August 24th, 2017
Thousands of Saleh supporters rally in Yemen amid Houthi rift

Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis descended on Sanaa Thursday in a major show of force for ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose alliance with the country's Huthi insurgents has been shaken by mutual distrust.

Tensions have been rising between Saleh and his one-time foe, insurgent chief Abdul Malik al-Huthi, who in 2014 joined ranks in a shock alliance that drove the government out of the capital and into the southern province of Aden.

The rally marking 35 years since the founding of Saleh's Arab nationalist General People's Congress (GPC) sends out a signal that the strongman remains a force to be reckoned with.

Crowds filled the four-square-kilometre square and poured into the streets of the capital, waving the blue flag of the GPC and carrying pictures of the 75-year-old Saleh.

Saleh ruled Yemen with an iron fist for more than three decades before stepping down in 2012 after a bloody year-long uprising.

But the strongman retained the loyalty of some of the best-equipped units in the military and later joined forces with the Huthis, after they overran the capital in 2014.

The ensuing civil war between the Saudi-backed government and the Huthi-Saleh alliance has killed thousands and brought the Arabian Peninsula country to the brink of famine.

Saleh's supporters had travelled to Sanaa from across the impoverished country, camping out in Sabaeen Square overnight ahead of the rally.

Saleh – who survived the Arab Spring protests that saw a string of his peers ousted from Egypt to Libya – appeared in person at the rally and gave a brief speech behind bulletproof glass, surrounded by heavily armed guards.

'Allies for show'

Saleh said he was ready to deploy "tens of thousands of fighters to the frontlines", on condition the rebel-led government train and pay them.

Analysts have said the rally serves in part as public protest against the Iran-backed Huthis, who with Saleh have run the capital since 2014.

The rebels have rapidly risen in a parallel government in Sanaa, and now hold clout in the city's economy, defence and educational ministries

Former troops and civil servants in the parallel rebel-run government have not been paid for months.

Saleh's second-in-command in the General People's Congress, Aref al-Zouka, on Thursday criticised the Huthis for financial mismanagement and corruption, saying the party refused to be "allies for show".

A war of words between Saleh and Abdul Malik al-Huthi, whose rebel group have historically clashed with Saleh's troops, has escalated in the past week.

The two have publicly accused each other of treason, with Saleh hinting his allies were merely "a militia" and the rebels warning the former president he would "bear the consequences" of the insult.

The Huthis reportedly suspect Saleh has been negotiating with a Saudi-led Arab coalition that supports the Yemeni government.

Saleh was a strong ally of Saudi Arabia from the late 1970s, when he fought the Huthis for control of Yemen, until 2014.

The Saleh camp has meanwhile accused the Huthis of aiming to consolidate their power in Sanaa.

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