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Clashes in Aden as Yemen allies turn on each other

At least 10 people dead, about 100 wounded as southern Yemeni separatists fight government troops in Aden, local medics say
Southen separatists protest in Aden on 28 January, 2018 (Reuters)

YEMEN - Aden's streets have emptied except for tanks and armoured vehicles as deadly clashes continue between forces loyal to Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Hadi and the separatist Southern Transitional Council, backed by the United Arab Emirates.

At least 10 people were killed and about 100 others were wounded as separatists fought government troops, local medics said, deepening a rift between forces that had been on the same side.

Clashes first broke out on Sunday morning after pro-Hadi forces prevented supporters of the Southern Transitional Council from organising a protest against Hadi’s government in Aden.

The Southern Transitional Council's forces took over some public buildings and military camps, but presidential forces recaptured some of them, including the government headquarters. Clashes were also reported outside the Presidential Palace.

Mohammed Mosaed, a journalist in Aden, confirmed that both sides resorted to shelling and gunfire as they attempted to take over public buildings and military camps.

"The presidential forces closed streets that lead to the protest square because the Southern Transitional Council has already threatened that they will form a new government today that will fight Hadi's government," he told Middle East Eye.

Yemen's prime minister, Ahmed bin Dagher, accused southern separatists of attempting a coup in the interim capital of Aden after they took over government headquarters.

"A coup is ongoing here in Aden against legitimacy and the country's unity," Dagher said in the statement on Sunday.

Both sides prepared very well for this battle, and when Hadi's forces used force to prevent protesters arriving at the square, the Southern Transitional Forces resisted the presidential forces and that was the end of the peace in Aden

- Mohammed Mosaed, journalist

Dagher said events in Aden were headed towards "total military confrontation" and urged members of the coalition, in particular the United Arab Emirates, to take action.

Ahead of the planned protest, the coalition called for calm and restraint from "all Yemeni political and social" parties.

It urged all sides to "adhere to the language of calm dialogue," according to a statement cited late on Saturday by Saudi state news agency SPA.

A source in the Information Ministry based in Aden confirmed to MEE that the presidential forces recaptured the headquarters of the cabinet and other public institutions.

"It is a matter of time, and our forces will put down the riot in Aden. The presidential forces recaptured the headquarters of the cabinet, and they are going to recapture all other public institutions and military camps," he said.

He accused the UAE of supporting the Southern Council's fighters against Hadi's government.

"What happened today is a clear indication that the UAE fights the Yemeni government, as the rebels are fighting the presidential forces under the supervision of UAE in Aden and by using the arms of the UAE."

The source appealed to southern fighters to be reasonable and not to repeat the scenario of the Houthis in Sanaa in 2015, when the Houthi rebels fought the government and created a crisis in the whole country.

"Force is not a solution to our disputes, so if there are any demands we can discuss them by dialogue and not by force. I hope the Southern Council's fighters choose peace and not war," he explained.


The Southern Transitional Council was formed in May 2017 by Brigadier Aidarous al-Zobaidi after Hadi fired him from his position as governor of Aden.

The council aims to represent southern Yemen and demands its independence. It receives direct support from the UAE, which also oversees the Security Belt Forces, its military wing.

Last Sunday, the council held a meeting and announced a state of emergency in Aden to remove Hadi's government and appoint a new one to fight it.

The council gave Hadi's government one week to leave Aden, saying it would encourage its supporters to protest, before forming a new government and taking up arms.

As reaction to this escalation, the leader of the presidential forces, Brigadier Mahran al-Qubati, returned to Aden from Saudi Arabia last week, and the prime minister held a meeting in the Presidential Palace in Aden with the presidential forces.

Qubati confirmed late last week that the presidential forces have directions to curb any riot in Aden, and the minister of interior also confirmed that they will stop "thugs" from creating trouble on the streets of Aden.

Despite Hadi announcing a ban on protests on Saturday, the Southern Transitional Council still called on its supporters to protest on Sunday morning. They soon spread throughout Aden, blocking the streets.

The journalist Mosaed said: "Both sides prepared very well for this battle, and when Hadi's forces used force to prevent protesters arriving at the square, the Southern Transitional Forces resisted the presidential forces and that was the end of the peace in Aden."


The disputes between the Security Belt Forces and the presidential forces had already appeared during 2017, but the dispute had not escalated to this degree.

"The clashes are still going on fiercely, and we cannot say which side controls what because the battle has not stopped, but I can say that residents are very worried," Mosaed said.

A member of the Southern Transitional Council accused government forces of "repression".

"We were planning to protest against the government peacefully, and we did not use force during the last period, but the presidential forces forced the southern fighters to face them as they repressed us in Aden today by force," he told MEE.

"Repression is not a solution at all, but Hadi's forces want to rule by force without listening to opponents."

The council member believes the clashes of Aden are the beginning of a new revolution of southerners to recapture their country.

"These clashes are the beginning of the end. We remained for more than 20 years [and] demand independence, but I believe this battle will help southerners to achieve their goal," he said.

Universities, schools and the international airport in the city have all closed, and dozens have been killed and injured with both sides making numerous arrests.

Saudi and UAE

Some observers of the situation believe that the solution to tension in Aden is not in the hands of the Yemenis but rather in the hands of members of the Saudi-led coalition, as Saudi Arabia supports Hadi and the UAE supports the Southern Council.

Journalist Tareq al-Mallah said the tension between Hadi's forces and the Southern Council is not new but this time the Saudi-led coalition had failed to reconcile them before they clashed.

"Early last year, the presidential forces and the Security Belt Forces backed by the UAE clashed in Aden airport, and then the Saudis reconciled them, but this time the Saudis have not done so," Mallah told MEE.

"It is easy for the Saudi-led coalition to stop the war but I believe that there is tension between Saudi and UAE over Yemen."

He stated that the coming days will say a lot about the tension between the UAE and Saudi Arabia over Yemen, pointing out that if the Saudi-led coalition wants to stop the war, it will direct its Yemeni allies to stop it.

"If the Saudi and UAE want to stop the clashes in Aden, they can do it in minutes."

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