Thousands of people took to the streets Saturday in cities across Yemen to protest a plan announced Friday by Houthi rebels to dissolve the country's parliament and install their own government.
Armed rebels attempted to disperse the crowds in the capital of Sana'a by firing at protesters and beating them back with clubs and sticks. Thousands more rallied in support of the Houthis at a counter-demonstration in a sports stadium in Sana'a.
Demonstrations were also held Saturday in the southern city of Taiz to protest the Houthi "constitutional coup."
Security officials reported that a bomb exploded Saturday outside the presidential palace in Sana'a, wounding three guards and further adding to the tensions. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
During a television broadcast Friday, the rebels announced plans to dissolve Yemen's parliament and install a national council that would later choose a new president. The announcement came after talks between the rebels and various political parties and representatives from the United Nations collapsed Thursday. The power grab provoked swift condemnation by Yemenis who oppose the Houthis.
Rebel leaders announced Saturday that they had appointed four top ministers from the previous cabinet to the national security committee, a move widely seen as an attempt quell the ire provoked by the Friday announcement and work toward a national political consensus.
Mahmoud Salem al-Subaihi, Yemen's previous minister of defense, was appointed chairman of the 17-person council that oversees military and security policies. The other former cabinet ministers included Jalal al-Rowaishan, who was minister of the interior; Ali Hassan al-Ahmedi, who was the former head of Yemen's counterterrorism intelligence agency; and the previous head of the country's internal security agency, Khalid al-Sufi.
The heavily armed Houthis swept into the capital in September and quickly took control of the city. On January 22, the Houthis forced the resignation of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his entire cabinet. Since then, Yemen has not had a functioning government.
Even members of the Houthi movement criticized the recent move as overly heavy-handed. "The Houthis will never be able to control Yemen just because they control Sana'a," said Ali al-Bukhaiti, a former senior Houthi official who resigned last month in protest of the government takeover by the group. "Their supporters are limited to certain areas of the country. They have yet to understand that and this will cause their collapse."
The Houthi power grab also provoked ire from Yemen's Sunni tribes, who control much of the oil-rich south and east of the country. "We reject the authors of this coup in Sana'a," a spokesman for the influential Marib tribes, Sheikh Saleh al-Anjaf, told AFP.
The Houthis, members of the Zaidi sect within Shia Islam, make up about a third of Yemen's population and are dominant in the north of the country. They defiantly oppose al Qaeda, but are also foes to their Sunni neighbor, Saudi Arabia, which recently cut off aid to Yemen in response to the Houthi takeover. Iran's Shia government is widely thought to back the Houthis, although the group's leaders have denied the allegation.
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