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Iran supporting 'stability' in Yemen: Rouhani

UN warns of possible civil war in Yemen as Iran says it has played decisive role in 'eradicating terrorism' in Middle East
A bomb planted by al-Qaeda exploded at the home of Iran's envoy in Yemen in December, killing 3 (AFP)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that Iran is supporting “peace and stability” in Yemen.

Rouhani spoke at a rally in Tehran to celebrate the 36th anniversary of the 1979 uprising now known as the Islamic Revolution.

During the celebration, a huge 232-square metre US flag was burned in a public square ahead of Rouhani’s speech.

“Spreading peace and stability and eradicating terrorism in the Middle East is done through the Islamic Republic [of Iran],” Rouhani told the assembled crowd during a speech that was also broadcast live on state television.

“You have seen that the state that aids the peoples of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen in combatting terrorist groups is Iran”.

Rouhani’s comments were his first public admission of any role played by Iran in recent events in Yemen, which is currently the scene of huge political upheaval.

The Iranian president gave no details in his speech of the stance his country has taken in Yemen in the past months, during which militias from the Houthi tribe have seized power and announced the dissolving of parliament.

Iran has long been accused of backing the insurgency, launched by mainly Zaydi Shiite rebels.

Late last year Tawakkol Karman and Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize winners from Yemen and Iran respectively, accused Tehran of stealing “the hopes and dreams” of Yemenis by backing the Houthi uprising, which many have dubbed a coup.

Iran has not previously made an official statement regarding the allegations.

However an Iranian MP, Alireza Zakani, was quoted last September as saying that “the Yemeni capital has become the fourth Arab capital that is subject to Iran” – his comments came days after Houthi rebels took control of the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

In the wake of the Houthi takeover, the UN’s Secretary General said on Thursday that Yemen is “collapsing before our eyes”.

Ban Ki-moon was speaking to the UN Security Council in New York following a visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, saying the UN is now focussing its efforts on “preventing civil war in Yemen”.

The UN’s envoy in Yemen, Jamal Benomar, spoke to the conference by video link from Sanaa.

“Today, Yemen is at a crossroad: either the country will descend into civil war and disintegration, or the country will find a way to put the transition back on track,” he said, in reference to a rocky process of democratic transition since the ouster of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh after Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011.

A delegate from Qatar insisted that the Houthis must be repelled – “there must be a return to legitimacy”.

“We will not sit with our hands tied during the ongoing events in Yemen”.

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