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Middle East

Yemen Shiite rebels overrun tribal strongholds

Yemeni protesters call for the resignation of the government during a demonstration in Sanaa on January 23, 2014, in protest against the assassination of a law professor representing Shiite Huthi rebels at reconciliation talks earlier this week in the Yemeni capital. AFP PHOTO/ MOHAMMED HUWAIS

SANAA: Shiite Huthi rebels have overrun strongholds of powerful tribes in northern Yemen, witnesses said Sunday, in a major advance following weeks of combat that have left scores dead.

The rebels have been pushing out from their stronghold in the mountains of the far north to other areas nearer the capital to expand their hoped-for autonomous unit in a promised federal Yemen, political sources say.

The Huthis seized the town of Huth and Khamri village -- the seat of the Hashid tribal chief, as tribal defence lines crumbled, local sources and witnesses said.

Tribal chief sheikh Hussein al-Ahmar ordered his fighters to evacuate his family's farm in Khamri and set it ablaze, witnesses said, adding that the tribesmen have retreated to neighbouring areas.

Scores have been captured by the advancing rebels, they added.

The violence in Amran province dates back to January 5, and scores have been killed in the fighting, including 60 on Friday alone.

Hashid tribesmen on Friday recaptured areas lost to the rebels earlier in the week, but control on the ground has been changing hands continuously, according to local sources.

President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi has pledged that Yemen will adopt a federal constitution in a bid to address local grievances that have fuelled violence across the Arab world's poorest country.

But at a ceremony last Saturday to mark the conclusion of a troubled 10-month national dialogue, he put off any decision on the thorny issue of how many components it will have, promising that a special commission will decide.

The prospect of a federal Yemen, originally mooted as way to address grievances of the formerly independent south -- where secessionist violence has been on the rise -- has spawned demands for autonomy elsewhere, including the rebel-held far north.

 

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