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Yemen's UAE-backed southern separatists announce popular uprising

Southern Transitional Council calls on Aden residents to take over public institutions and restore South Yemen
Protests have rocked the southern city of Aden (AFP)

SANAA – Following days of protests in southern Yemen’s capital Aden over the government’s inability to tackle an economic crisis, a southern separatist group on Wednesday called for independence and a popular uprising.

Yemen is suffering a crippling economic crisis as the rial plummets in value and prices of essential goods rise across the board.

In response, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) called on the people of Yemen’s south, which was independent between 1967 and 1990, to rise up against the government.

The STC formed last year to push for the restoration of the former independent state of South Yemen.

"The ruling gangs of corruption take our money, the food of our children and the incomes of the liberated south out of the south to their own treasury,” the group said in a statement.

This frivolity led to the collapse of economy and currency, the instability of the society, and affected services and stopped development

- STC statement

“They live with their children in luxury and our children and grandsons suffer famine, diseases and malnutrition.

"This frivolity led to the collapse of economy and currency, the instability of the society, and affected services and stopped development."

The government warned the call could cause mass riots that "would only harm the security and unity of Yemen and its people," in a statement that urged the STC to abandon its plans.

The statement has been well-received by people in Aden, who noted that it addressed people’s suffering. Many Aden residents Middle East Eye spoke to said they believe it is time to expel the government from Yemen’s south.

Hani Abdul-Jabbar, a 43-year-old Aden resident said: "The government has not found any solution to our suffering over the last three years – instead, it is a main reason behind our suffering."

Millions of Yemenis are starving (AFP)
"Prices are increasing every day and people are starving to death while the officials of the government receive unimaginable salaries and live abroad," Abdul-Jabbar, an accountant, added.

Abdul-Jabbar has participated in most of the protests in Aden against the government during the last few weeks and he confirmed that he will participate in all future protests.

"I am not giving up protesting until we end our suffering and recapture our country from the invasion," he said. "We welcomed the government to Aden and it did not hesitate to loot our wealth."

Beset by calamities

Yemen – the Arab world’s poorest country – has been beset by calamities since a Saudi-led coalition began battling Houthi rebels in 2015 on behalf of the internationally recognised government.

The United Nations – which has labelled Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis – estimates 22.3 million out of the country’s population of 29.3 million require aid.

Over 8.4 million Yemenis are at risk of starvation, according to the UN.

And in the three years since the war broke out, the Yemeni rial has lost half of its value, only exacerbating the problems.

"My salary is 60,000 Yemeni rials, it used to equal $300 before 2015 and today it is less than $100 and I cannot buy basic commodities for my family,” Abdul-Jabbar said.

If we will not revolt now, when will we? I think this is the best time to help ourselves

- Hani Abdul-Jabbar, Aden resident

“If we will not revolt now, when will we? I think this is the best time to help ourselves."

Clashes between southern separatists and government forces broke out in January, killing dozens. Again, the STC had complained about corruption and mismanagement.

On Wednesday, the group appeared to want to stoke the flames once again.

"We revolted together last January and we promised to change the government but that has not happened yet, so the government continued its frivolity and corruption," the statement said.

"We announce that all southern provinces are disaster areas as result of the disastrous politics of the so-called legitimacy and its government. We announce we cancelled all the commitments that connect us with the government and promise to our nation in all southern provinces that we support a popular uprising. We confirm that the uprising will be peaceful and protesters should maintain the public and private institutions."

Spark of chaos

While many southern people welcomed the STC’s announcement, some people worried it could be the "spark of chaos" in the southern provinces.

"When the STC tells people to control public institutions, it sends a message to people to destroy them," Jamal, an Aden resident who wished to only be known by his first name, told MEE. "Protesters destroy, burn and maybe kill - but they cannot manage to control institutions peacefully."

If the STC are so keen for autonomy, Jamal said, it should take control of the public institutions itself, a step that would be welcomed by southern Yemenis.

"The STC has a military wing - the Security Belt forces – which is backed by the UAE, and it can force the public institutions to stop working under the leadership of [Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour] Hadi and start working under the leadership of the STC," he said.

"The STC announced the spark of chaos in Aden with this announcement today and Aden will head towards worse from today and onward. This is the bad fact that residents must be aware about.”

Like Abdul-Jabbar, Jamal believes the protests will continue in Aden. He warned they will likely spiral into violence if residents obey the STC.

"We do not want to witness a new war in the south, it is enough to see needy people starve to death."

Division in the southern street

Political analysts in Aden fear commenting on the STC’s announcement because they believe it is dangerous to give their opinion against the group, whose military wing is powerful in the south.

One analyst, who heads a strategic studies centre in Aden and wished to remain anonymous, told MEE: "We have witnessed several of the STC’s announcements since it was established last year, but none were valuable as all of them led to chaos and more division on the southern street.

"The STC is announcing a popular uprising now to exploit the anger of hungry people, not to help them. This is the bitter fact that I feel sorry about,” he added.

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The analyst confirmed that many southern people are loyal to the STC and will obey its announcement and keep protesting in the city.

"Normal people will believe that the STC will help needy people amid the current crisis, but the fact is that the needy people will help the STC to achieve its own purposes.”

The analyst noted that although there was much anger against the government for its mismanagement of the economy, the STC has not reacted to the crisis in the right way either.

"All of us are against the government and we demand a better life, but the chaos is not the best solution to anger,” the analyst said.

“I hope residents will understand the situation and will keep protesting peacefully against the government.”

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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