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Yemen's Houthis block fresh protests in Sanaa

Hundreds of Houthis also staged a counter protest to condemn what they described as attempts to divide Yemen
Yemenis gather during a protest against Houthi militants in Ibb, Yemen on 24 January (AA)

Yemen's powerful Shiite militia fired in the air and made arrests on Wednesday for the third time this week to prevent a rally in Sanaa against their tightening grip on the capital, witnesses said.

They said the militiamen also used batons against the demonstrators, a number of whom were injured.

According to witnesses, at least 10 marchers were hurt when they were attacked by Houthi militants armed with rifles and sticks.  

Houthi militants fired shots into the air and attacked activists taking part in the march, eyewitnesses said.

The Houthis also abducted a number of marchers along with photojournalists covering the event, eyewitnesses said.

Demonstrators, for their part, condemned what they described as "violations" committed by the Houthi group.

"No to confessionalism," the protesters chanted before being forced to abandon a planned march through the centre of Sanaa.

It was the third such incident since Sunday, following President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi's announcement three days earlier that he was handing in his resignation.

Opponents of the Houthis have been urging demonstrations against their occupation of the capital, which has plunged Yemen into crisis.

Counter protests

Meanwhile, hundreds of the Shiite group's followers staged their own march – not far from the first – to condemn what they described as attempts by certain parties to break Yemen into several parts.

The march was organised in response to calls by the Houthi-affiliated Revolutionary Committee.

Marchers chanted slogans against an alleged plan to divide Yemen into several administrative regions, accusing the US of seeking the country's partition. 

Also on Wednesday, seven Houthi members were killed in an attack in Yemen's central Radaa city, a security source has said.

"[Unidentified people] fired shells at the house of a pro-Houthi tribal leader, where Houthis had gathered, killing seven of them," the source told the Anadolu Agency.

He said a number of Houthis were also injured in the attack. 

According to the source, the attack carried the hallmark of al-Qaeda group.

Foreigner reportedly abducted

Reports say that a foreigner was kidnapped in Yemen's southern Aden province on Wednesday, security sources have said.

Gunmen blocked the road of a vehicle driven by a foreign national and took him to an undisclosed location, the sources said.

The sources said that the abducted foreigner could be a French citizen.

Yemeni authorities have yet to comment on the abduction, for which no group has yet claimed responsibility.

US government communication

Late on Wednesday, the US hinted that it is in contact with Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels.

“US government officials are in communication with various parties in Yemen,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Turesday.

“The Houthis, as participants in these events, will certainly have reason to want to speak to international partners and the international community about their intentions and about how this process is going to unfold,” he said, stressing that there is no intelligence sharing with the rebels.                                                

Last week, the capital of Sanaa was rocked by deadly clashes between Houthi militants and presidential guard units amid an apparent push by the rebels to consolidate their control in the country.

Yemen has remained in a constitutional vacuum ever since President Hadi tendered his resignation shortly after Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and his government quit to protest against the Houthi takeover of the capital.

The militia descended from their base in Yemen's north to overrun Sanaa in September.

Fractious Yemen has remained in a state of turmoil since a popular uprising in 2011 ended the autocratic rule of longstanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh a year later.