Yemen Shiite rebels harden their protest demands

Associated Press

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen’s Shiite rebel group on Monday presented the government with new demands in order to stop their protests, hardening their positions and prolonging the standoff that has brought protest tents to the capital.

The demonstrations by tens of thousands of members of the heavily armed Hawthi group have put security authorities on alert. Tanks and armored vehicles have been deployed to the capital to protect government buildings and foreign embassies. Meanwhile, the Hawthis set up tents and militants took over rooftops and beefed up their defenses along the city’s main airport road and near three ministries, prompting fears of armed confrontations in the capital.

They previously demanded a new government and a review of all economic policies, first among them a recent decision to end fuel subsidies that saw prices nearly double. On Monday, the Hawthis made additional demands including having more representation in a national review agency that oversees the rewriting of the constitution and implementing a new federal system, according to a member of a Yemeni presidential delegation.

The official said the group also has hardened its demands, specifying that the new government program must be approved by consensus within two weeks. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

The Hawthis waged a six-year insurgency in the north against former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh that officially ended in 2010. After Saleh’s ouster, they have fought ultraconservative Islamists in several northern cities and towns, accusing them of turning their strongholds into incubators of extremism. Over the past weeks, they’ve battled and defeated the Muslim Brotherhood group and its political arm, the Islah party.

The tension over the government has been simmering for months after critics alleged that Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Bassindwa is too weak and too close to the Islah party. Critics also blame Bassindwa for deteriorating security and the economic conditions.

Yemen’s international allies have called on the Hawthis to end the protests, warning they could be construed as “antagonistic, militaristic and disrespectful.” The protests come as Yemen continues to battle militants and the country’s local al-Qaida branch, considered by the U.S. to be the world’s most dangerous offshoot of the terror group.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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