Thousands of Yemenis rallied in the port city of Aden on Thursday in support of the UAE-backed southern separatists, who snatched control of the city from forces loyal to the Western-backed government of president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi on August 11.
Aden had, until now, served as the seat of the Hadi government since the Houthis seized the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in 2014.
Last week, the Security Belt, a militia affiliated with the Southern Transitional Council (STC), seized control of the government headquarters, military bases, as well as the Presidential Palace after four days of intense fighting with government forces.
The United Nations (UN) stated that the fighting claimed up to 40 lives and injured over 260 people. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), however, stated that clinics in Aden have reported “scores dead and hundreds wounded.”
The people marching in the rallies proclaimed loyalty to the STC and chanted slogans like, “Oh revolution of the south!” Waving flags of the old state of southern Yemen, they demanded that the STC separatists hold on to their positions in Aden. Yemen was earlier divided into two separate countries in 1967 until their reunification in 1990.
Youssef al-Kaeity, a pro-STC activist present at the rally, said, “Hadi’s forces won’t be able to come back again to the Southern streets because we have suffered from them and their actions for many years. God willing, we will achieve victory.”
According to the organizers, thousands of Yemenis had been transported by buses and cars from rural areas in Southern Yemen to participate in the rallies at Aden and show support for the demand of secession for Southern Yemen.
A petition was also circulated by southern Yemeni civil society organizations and trade unions, which urged the Saudi-led coalition to hand over administration of the south to the STC. It also urged the STC chief, Aidarus al-Zubaidi, to declare independence, and appealed to the international community to grant recognition to the newly formed southern state.
The over four-year-long war in Yemen has resulted in an acute humanitarian crisis which the UN has termed as the world’s worst. According to the UN, 22.2 million people are in some kind of assistance for their survival, and approximately 8.4 million people are at risk of starvation. Over 100,000 have died in the violence and infighting, as well as due to the humanitarian crisis created by the shortage of essential and medical supplies.
The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen on behalf of the Hadi government in March 2015, with the aim of ousting the Houthis, who had earlier routed his government from Sanaa in late 2014.