Yemeni Shiite rebels and activists took to the streets of Sanaa Wednesday to reject a presidential overture to replace the government and reduce a disputed fuel price hike.
Faced with increased pressure from the Shiite rebels, who are also known as Huthis, and a deepening political crisis, President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi announced the measures on Tuesday.
The government has pledged that a 30 percent reduction in the fuel price hikes will take effect Thursday, its spokesman Rajeh Badi said.
But the rebels, camped inside and outside Sanaa, rejected the initiative and on Wednesday hundreds blocked main roads inside the capital after calls to protest sent through radio.
Demonstrators chanted slogans rejecting the presidential offer and called for more protests.
“Escalate! Escalate! We reject the initiative,” read a banner carried by protesters. “The people want to topple corruption,” they chanted.
The protesters cleared the road after a blockade that lasted more than three hours, an AFP correspondent said.
Security forces had cordoned off roads leading to the government headquarters. No confrontations were reported but some residents complained about disruptions.
“I am ill. I need to go to hospital but I could not reach it,” said Mohammed Haidar, 30.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Hadi warned of “violence and chaos” and vowed that “we will work on achieving security and stability across the country and we will not be lenient regarding the security of the capital Sanaa.”
The presidential initiative stipulates naming a new prime minister within a week and reducing a recent fuel price hike, two demands of the rebels who accuse the government of corruption.
The rebels’ spokesman, Mohammed Abdulsalam, dismissed the initiative as an attempt to “skirt around the demands of the Yemeni people,” writing on his Facebook page that the rebels “do not agree to it”.
The initiative comes after Zaidi Shiite rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi on Sunday urged supporters to press on with a campaign in Sanaa to oust the government.
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 the Zaidi Shiites are the majority community.
The government initiative demands the dismantling of the Huthis’ encampments within and around the capital, describing them as a “cause for tension”.
It also calls for bringing the northern province of Amran, where rebels have expanded their presence in past months, under full government control, as well as ending confrontations in nearby Jawf province.
– Huthi camps –
The UN Security Council on Friday also demanded the dismantling of the Huthis’ camps, and for the rebels to pull back from areas they have occupied in recent months.
It threatened sanctions against groups blocking the political transition of the impoverished country.
Huthi on Sunday accused the Security Council of “supporting corruption and backing policies that lead to further poverty”.
Hadi’s initiative also stressed the need “to commit” to implementing decisions reached through national talks, which concluded in February with a call to turn Yemen into a federation of six regions.
The plan has been rejected by both Shiite rebels and southern separatists.
Yemen has been locked in a protracted transition since long-time strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced from power in February 2012 after a deadly 11-month uprising.
On the economic front, the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday approved a $553 million loan for Yemen to help the struggling country stabilise its finances and boost growth.
The three-year loan aims to support the government in implementing a package of reforms, including the elimination of large fuel subsidies to reduce a drain on the state budget.