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Yemen in nationwide blackout after militants cut power lines

Day-long power outage sparks protest and political reshuffle, amid massive disruption in the country due to ongoing food and fuel shortages
Yemenis burn tyres and block roads to protest fuel shortages (AA)

Yemen suffered a total blackout on Tuesday after gunmen in the eastern province of Marib sabotaged key power lines, the electricity and energy ministry announced.

"The act of sabotage at Kilometre 78 suspended the entire national power and energy grid, including at Marib's gas plant, and cut power in all provinces," a ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by the Defence Ministry news website

Technical teams repaired the lines after the first assault before gunmen sabotaged them a second time and prevented technicians from fixing them again.

Attacks on power lines in Yemen are common and are often launched by heavily armed tribesmen as a lever to press for the release of jailed relatives or to support other demands.

Marib is also a stronghold of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), seen by the United States as the extremist network's deadliest franchise, which has been targeted by an army offensive since 29 April.

Wednesday saw a day of fierce protests in Sanaa, after the capital was left without power for over a day in 28° heat.

Translation: The streets of Sanaa erupt because of the unity government's failure to deliver the basic needs of Yemeni citizens

The Interior Ministry has responded by warning citizens to "avoid responding to suspicious calls inciting violence".

In a statement on its website, the ministry reiterated that it will not hesitate to "take all legal steps" against those participating in or inciting "riots".

Government reshuffle

Wednesday saw a major shake-up of the Yemeni cabinet, in what is widely seen as a response to popular protest.

President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi announced the reassignment of five key posts: the electricity, oil, finance, foreign and information ministers were all reshuffled.

The new cabinet maintains the balance within the unity government, which combines ministers from the General People's Congress (GPC) under the leadership of ousted former President Ali Abdullah Saleh with his opponents.

However, Wednesday also saw the closure of the Yemen Today network, financed by Saleh. 

The head of the GPC's bloc in parliament told AFP that the government had approved a decision by the president to shut down the TV channel and newspaper owned by Saleh, which are often accused of bias against Hadi's government.

Fuel shortages

The absence of reliable electricity supplies further complicates the lives of Yemenis, who already suffer water, fuel and food shortages.

Scores of Yemenis on Monday blocked a main road connecting several provinces to protest ongoing fuel shortages, eyewitnesses said.

"The protesters cut off a main road in central Dhamar city, which connects Sana'a to the provinces of Ibb and Taiz," one eyewitness told Anadolu Agency.

Scuffles erupted between the protesters and policemen when the latter tried to prevent the road-blocking, added the witnesses, refusing to be named.

The road-blocking caused immediate traffic congestion with hundreds of vehicles trapped inside the city.

On Sunday, Hadi gave orders to the oil and finance ministries to oversee, within a week, importing oil derivatives from abroad to cover demand for four months.

The shortage has lasted for months, and many petrol stations are closed as result.

“I have spent about 20 hours here and haven't got petrol yet. I'm afraid the gas station will run out of petrol before my turn comes,” said Abdurabu Al-Qefri, a taxi-driver in Sana'a, speaking to the Yemen Times.