Yemeni authorities on Thursday freed two separatist leaders in response to demands of southerners and an exiled figure returned from almost two decades abroad, activists and an AFP correspondent said.
Authorities freed Qassem Askar, a head of the hardline faction of the separatist Southern Movement, and southern cleric Hussein bin Shouaib “based on orders by the attorney general,” said activist Yasser al-Yafie.
The two were arrested last week in the main southern city of Aden, ahead of violent protests which started on February 21 to mark one year since President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi came to power in a single-candidate election.
Clashes which continued until midday Tuesday left nine people dead, while Hadi has been in the south since Saturday pledging to take measures to end the unrest.
“We met with Hadi yesterday (Wednesday) and he ordered the release of the two leaders to calm the street” in Aden, said Southern Movement activist Lutfi Shatara.
On Tuesday, southern separatists said they were suspending their campaign of “civil disobedience” but threatened an escalation if the authorities failed to meet their demands by March 1.
“If our demands are not met, there will be an overall escalation starting on Saturday across all southern provinces,” another Southern Movement activist, Nizar Haitham, told AFP.
The activists are demanding the dismissal of Aden’s governor and its central security chief. They also want government compensation for families of the victims of the latest violence and the release of all political prisoners.
Another southern leader, Ahmed Bin Farid al-Suraimi, returned to Aden on Thursday from exile in Oman where he had been living since 1994, according to an AFP correspondent.
South Yemen broke away in 1994, sparking a civil war, before it was overrun by northern troops.
Suraimi, who contributed to the release in late 2011 of three French aid workers kidnapped by Al-Qaeda militants in Aden, met with Hadi upon his return, sources close to the southern Yemeni said.
Hardliners in the south have refused to take part in a national dialogue set to take place on March 18, insisting on a secession of the regions of the formerly independent south.