SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Heavy fighting between Shiite rebels and Sunni tribesmen in southern Yemen has left 26 dead, security and military officials said Saturday, as tens of thousands of people marched to protest the rebels' rule.
The violence was the latest to hit volatile Yemen, where the rebels have seized power but do not control all of the country and are being confronted by a powerful branch of al-Qaida. United Nations negotiations, headed by envoy Jamal Benomar, to resolve the deadlock have stalled.
The rebels, known as Houthis, were supported by army troops when they fought the tribesmen in Bayda province in clashes that began the night earlier. The Houthis lost 16 fighters and the tribesmen 10, the officials said.
Meanwhile tens of thousands marched in protest against the Houthis Saturday in the cities of Ibb, Taiz, Hodeida, Dhamar and the capital, Sanaa. In Ibb, protesters set a Houthi military vehicle ablaze before the rebels dispersed them, wounding at least three people.
Officials with Benomar's office said Saturday that talks between political groups were continuing and views were converging. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information otherwise.
Also Saturday, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Arab Emirates became the latest countries to shut down embassy operations in Sanaa, announcing they were evacuating diplomats. Saudi Arabia, Italy, Germany, the United States, France and Britain have taken similar measures amid the growing political uncertainty, threatening international isolation for the country.
Yemen's elected president resigned last month after a several-month power struggle with the rebels, who have controlled Sanaa since September. The rebels have since dissolved the parliament, and President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his Cabinet ministers remain under rebel house arrest.
The Houthis, whose stronghold is in northern Yemen, are members of the Shiite Zaydi sect, which composes nearly 30 percent of the Yemeni population. Their takeover has emboldened the militant Sunnis of Yemen's al-Qaida branch, which has stepped up attacks in southern and central Yemen, raising concerns of a widening sectarian conflict.