Hundreds of Yemeni tribesmen marched outside the capital Thursday in protest against Shiite rebels, whose latest anti-government campaign is threatening to deepen the impoverished country’s political crisis.
Brandishing assault rifles and shoulder-held rocket launchers, members of the Harith tribe took to the streets on the outskirts of Sanaa, voicing support for President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.
Faced with increased pressure from the Zaidi Shiite rebels, also known as Huthis, Hadi reduced the size of a controversial recent hike in fuel prices, and pledged to name a new prime minister.
But the rebels, camped inside and outside Sanaa, dismissed as insufficient the 30 percent cut in the price hike, and pressed demands to end alleged corruption.
They have threatened to escalate their campaign against the government, which included briefly blocking main arteries in Sanaa on Wednesday.
The tribesmen, shouting pro-government slogans, marched Thursday close to a Huthis encampment near the airport.
“The army and the people are united,” they chanted, pledging to protect the capital.
A statement from protesters urged the government to “protect the people… and to spread its authority over the whole country.”
Loyalist tribes have closed ranks with troops in fighting the rebels, who have been expanding their control in the north, beyond their stronghold in Saada.
On Thursday, clashes ensued in Jawf province, as Huthis attempted to seize Fardat Nahm, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) northeast of Sanaa, tribal sources said.
Rebels in Jawf want to take control of the main road linking Sanaa with the province of Marib, tribal sources said.
Zaidi fighters have been camped around the capital for the past two weeks and held protests throughout much of August to push for the government’s resignation.
Analysts say the rebels are trying to establish themselves as the dominant political force in the northern highlands, where Shiites are the majority community.
Yemen has been locked in a protracted transition since long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced from power in February 2012 after a deadly 11-month uprising.