Thousands call for new south Yemen leadership after president sacks senior cabinet figure
Thousands of south Yemenis demonstrated on Thursday in support of a governor sacked by the president in a blow to his authority and his efforts to keep together a motley loyalist coalition.
In his war with Houthi rebels, who control the capital Sanaa and much of the north, President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi has relied heavily on militia recruited in the formerly independent south, where separatist sentiment runs deep.
That has often forced him into a difficult balancing act with his other supporters - Sunni militants, loyalist army units from the north and foreign backers Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
As Middle East Eye reported on Wednesday, Hadi has fallen out with the UAE's Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, accusing him of acting like an occupier, and has sacked Aden's governor, who worked closely with the Emiratis.
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Thursday's demonstrators converged on the region's main city Aden, where Hadi's government is based, from towns across the south.
Organisers called for sacked governor Aidarus al-Zubaidi to set up a "national leadership to represent the south", and pledged their allegiance to it, in a statement received by AFP.
Hadi dismissed Zubaydi and state minister Hani Ali bin Braik on 27 April in a move that was widely seen as reflecting divisions among his supporters.
The two men, who are both believed to be close to southern self-rule activists, played a key role in restoring security to Aden and adjacent provinces after the rebels were pushed out in 2015.
— Naji Alkaladi (@NajTV) May 4, 2017
But they have rivals among northern generals who remained loyal to Hadi and among militants group.
The recapture of the south depended heavily on the support of a Saudi-led coalition, and both Zubaidi and Bin Braik are reported to have close ties with one of its key members, the United Arab Emirates.
Hadi spends most of his time in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which has reportedly attempted to reconcile Hadi to the UAE's crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed. The UAE is part of a coordination committee with the Yemeni government that has been set up in Riyadh.
The south's independence ended when it united with the north in 1990.
Four years later, it launched a bloody separatist rebellion which culminated in its occupation by northern forces.
The scars of that war are still widely felt, feeding separatist sentiment.