Hundreds of Shiite Huthi rebels protested Sunday in northern Yemen and blocked a road leading into Amran city, a day after clashes with government forces left 12 people dead.
Tension remained high after the rebels set up a protest tent in the middle of the road at the northern entrance to Amran, near an army checkpoint where their comrades clashed with security forces on Saturday.
Other rebels, mostly toting guns, marched inside the city demanding the sacking of the governor and a regional army chief, who they accused of belonging to the Sunni party Islah, an AFP reporter said.
Eight rebels were killed Saturday, as well as two soldiers and two civilians, after shooting erupted when gunmen heading to join a demonstration insisted on crossing through a checkpoint with their weapons.
A presidential mediating committee has been sent to Amran to defuse tensions after the rebels brought in reinforcements from their northern strongholds and the army boosted its presence.
The committee gave the rebels a 24-hour ultimatum, ending Monday morning, to remove the protest tent, open the road and pull out gunmen.
“If the Huthis have certain demands, those will be carried to the president,” said Ahmed al-Makdissi who heads the committee.
“We are concerned now about cementing security and stability,” he told AFP near the protest tent.
Last week, Huthis armed with assault rifles paraded through Amran and drove in vehicles fitted with rocket launchers, demanding the sacking of the “corrupt government”.
The Huthis have fought the central government in Sanaa for years, complaining of marginalisation under former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted in 2012 following a year of protests.
Last month, President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi and party leaders in Sanaa agreed to transform Yemen into a six-region federation as part of a political transition.
The rebels, who complain that Yemen would be divided into rich and poor regions under the plan, have been trying to enlarge their zone of influence by pushing out from their mountain strongholds in the far north to areas closer to the capital.
In early February, they seized parts of Amran province in fighting with local tribes that left more than 150 people dead.
Military sources said last week the rebel objective was to seize Amran city and, from there, lay siege to the capital.