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France pledges support for Riyadh in Yemen

Saudi-led air strikes over Yemen continue as clashes intensify in southern city of Aden
Saudi Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdulaziz bin Abdullah and French Foreign Affairs minister Laurent Fabius on 11 April in Riyadh (AFP)

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius visited Riyadh on Sunday to express support for Saudi Arabia's battle against Houthi militias in neighbouring Yemen.

"Concerning Yemen, we are here to demonstrate our support, especially political, to the Saudi authorities," Fabius told reporters as he began a series of meetings with the Saudi leadership including King Salman.

The kingdom, an important ally of France, leads a coalition of nine Arab countries which since 26 March has carried out airstrikes against the Houthi Shiite militias who overran the capital Sanaa in September and subsequently expanded their control to other parts of Yemen.

Riyadh feared the rebels would take over the entire country and move it into the orbit of Shiite Iran, Sunni Saudi Arabia's regional rival.

The Houthis, allied with army units loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have been fighting forces loyal to President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who fled to the Saudi capital Riyadh late last month.

Fabius would reaffirm to his Saudi hosts that "France is naturally on the side of its regional partners for the restoration of stability in Yemen," his entourage said.

Paris, like Riyadh and Washington, considers Hadi as leader of the legitimate government of Yemen, which had supported a United States drone war against al-Qaeda fighters there.

"It will be necessary, at one moment or another, to hold talks" for a political solution, Fabius said.

The US says it has stepped up weapons deliveries in support of the Saudi-led coalition, and is providing aerial and satellite intelligence, and airborne tankers for refuelling coalition aircraft.

Paris has not so far declared anything other than political support for the Saudi-led coalition.

Iran has dismissed as "utter lies" accusations that it has armed the rebels, and its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned that the coalition's "criminal acts" against the Houthis must end.

Fabius arrived on Saturday night and is to depart later on Sunday.

Coalition air strikes, clashes kill 27

While France and Saudi Arabia were in talks over Yemen, a Saudi-led airstrike hit a base in central Yemen killing 15 Houthi militants on Sunday, and 12 people died in overnight fighting in the main southern city of Aden, medical and security sources said.

Four civilians were shot dead in the city's Mualla and Dar Saad districts on Saturday, a medic at the Ba-Suhaib military hospital said.

A Hadi loyalist blamed rebel snipers for the deaths.

In the southwest, five Houthis and three loyalist militiamen were killed in clashes that flared as the Houthis tried to advance towards the city's oil refinery, sources on both sides said.

The pre-dawn airstrike hit Camp 22 in Al-Dhahra, in the central Taiz province, and also wounded eight Houthi militia members, a medic at Al-Thawra hospital said.

The base belongs to the elite Republican Guard, which remained loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh after he was forced from power in 2012 following a year of nationwide protests against his three-decade rule.

Saleh has allied his followers with the Houthi militants, who overran the capital Sanaa in September, in their battle against forces loyal to ousted President Hadi.

Since the Saudi-led air campaign began, fighting has flared in 15 of Yemen's 22 provinces. These include Aden, Daleh, Lahj, Abyan and Shabwa in the formerly independent south, where locally recruited militia have remained loyal to Hadi.

Taiz, Ibb, Baida, Hudaydah, Raymah, Amran, Hajja, Saada, Jawf and Marib have seen clashes between the rebels and tribes loyal to Hadi, or with Saudi troops across the border.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda forces have taken advantage of the security vacuum to seize control of Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt province in the southeast.  

Russian navy evacuates more people from Yemen

A Russian navy ship has evacuated 308 people of various nationalities from Yemen, a defence ministry official said Sunday. The evacuees were en route to Djibouti and included 45 Russians, 18 Americans, five British nationals, 159 Yemenis and citizens of former Soviet states and the Middle East.

"All evacuated persons are safely on board the Russian ship, which will deliver them to Djibouti by morning," ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian news agencies.

Russia has been evacuating its own and other citizens by air from the capital Sanaa and by sea from Aden since its consulate in Aden was hit on 29 March.

On Saturday the Russian foreign ministry announced that it will attempt to evacuate more people on Monday, but that continuing airstrikes prevented planes from entering Yemeni airspace.

Another attempt was to be made Sunday, according to the Russian embassy in Yemen.

Russian media cited a source at the airport in Sanaa as saying that the Saudi-led coalition carrying out the airstrikes prohibited planes from flying over the conflict-torn country.

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