Curfew declared in Yemen capital as fighting rages

Yemeni authorities imposed a curfew Saturday on parts of the capital, wracked by deadly fighting between Shiite rebels and pro-government forces despite UN efforts to reach a ceasefire.

AFP| Updated: Sep 21, 2014, 01:15 AM IST

Sanaa: Yemeni authorities imposed a curfew Saturday on parts of the capital, wracked by deadly fighting between Shiite rebels and pro-government forces despite UN efforts to reach a ceasefire.

The combat, which has taken dozens of lives this week, prompted both a suspension of international flights to Sanaa and an interruption of broadcasts by state television for the second straight day.

Forces allied to the government have been battling to halt the rebels, who swept into Sanaa from their mountain stronghold in the northwest weeks ago and set up camps to press an array of political demands.

A security committee chaired by President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi decreed an overnight curfew, from 9:00 pm to 6:00 am (1800-0300 GMT), in Sanaa`s northwestern districts of Shamlan, Al-Madhbah, Thabat and Balaa.

This week`s fighting has raising fears that the capital could fall to the rebels, who are demanding economic and political reforms.

"The suspension of the flights of Arab and foreign countries is continuing," an airport source said.

The only aircraft to touch down since Friday was a military plane bringing UN envoy Jamal Benomar back from the rebel stronghold of Saada.

Benomar, who spent three days unsuccessfully trying to negotiate a ceasefire with rebel chief Abdelmalek al-Huthi, was cautiously optimistic.

"I have tried to narrow the gap between the two parties and we`ve agreed on a number of points that can serve as the basis of an accord," he told reporters.

Yemen has been swept by political turmoil since the 2012 ouster of autocratic president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The rebels hail from the Zaidi Shiite community, a minority in the mostly Sunni nation, and are believed to be trying to establish themselves as the main political force in the region.

Also known as Huthis or Ansarullah, they have battled the government for years from their heartland of Saada, complaining of marginalisation.

Yemen, an important US ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda, has been under pressure on several fronts in recent years, including from militant attacks and demands in the south for independence.Hadi called the rebel offensive a "coup attempt" as he received ambassadors from the countries that helped to foster the political agreement that ended Saleh`s rule.

Yemeni media said he saw proof of this in the targeting of the headquarters of the state broadcaster.

Clashes raged between the two sides in northern Sanaa on Saturday morning, and attacks resumed on the TV headquarters.

Presenters said the facility had come under heavy gunfire and pleaded for the authorities to send forces to their aid. They said a number of employees had been wounded and that rebels were preventing medics from evacuating them.

Witnesses said part of the building was on fire.

Eventually, broadcasting resumed from another location.

Meanwhile, medics also said three civilians were killed in a bombardment of the main road in the area, near the Iman University that rebels tried to seize from fighters of the Sunni Islah (Reform) party.

And a hospital was hit by shellfire that killed one person and wounded three, a hospital worker said.

The rest of the city was quiet, with many businesses closed and little traffic on the roads.

Rebels fired several shells at the former headquarters of the first armoured division, sending plumes of smoke into the sky.

And the nearby Sanaa University told students to stay on holiday until mid-October after its campus was also hit by artillery.

The education ministry ordered schools to suspend lessons indefinitely.

One of the capital`s main markets, the Ali Mohsen Souk, has been closed for three days, which residents said has started to cause problems in obtaining fruit and vegetables.

Hadi has already agreed to involve the rebels in the formation of a new government to replace the unpopular administration that imposed austerity measures, including a fuel price hike, earlier this year.

But the rebels are also demanding posts in key state institutions as part of a push for greater political clout.