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Thousands of Yemenis march in Aden in support of UAE

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Thousands of Yemenis marched in Aden on Thursday in support of the United Arab Emirates, which helps separatists who wrested control of the southern city from the Saudi-backed government in a power struggle to open a new front in the Yemeni war.

The rally, held at a time when Saudi Arabia, which is leading an alliance fighting Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, hosted indirect talks between the two sides to end the crisis that has damaged Riyadh’s alliance with the UAE, its main partner.

The UAE-backed separatists are part of a coalition that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to bring President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government back to power after the Houthis drove them out of the capital in late 2014.

But the separatists are seeking autonomy in the south and overthrew the government in early August and took control of Aden’s interim government headquarters. They also clashed with government forces in other areas of the south as they sought to extend their influence.

Organizers of the march said they wanted to show their allegiance to the UAE, the second largest coalition force, which publicly intervened to support separatists with air strikes on government forces last week when it sought to recapture Aden and forced it to withdraw.

Men, women and children gathered on the main street of Al-Mualla in Aden, waving UAE flags and the colors of the former South Yemen Republic, which the Southern Transitional Council looks forward to returning.

“This is the least we can do for the UAE, which has given everything to the people of South Yemen,” said one demonstrator, Hashem al-Murshidi.

Others carried banners expressing loyalty to the UAE and portraits of the rulers of Abu Dhabi, while Emirati music blared from loudspeakers.

Hadi’s government has explicitly asked the UAE to stop supporting the separatists. Abu Dhabi responded by criticizing Hadi’s government as weak and ineffective.

– Indirect conversations –

Fighting in southern Yemen has threatened further fragmentation in the Arab peninsula and disrupted UN efforts to end a conflict that has killed tens of thousands and pushed millions to the brink of starvation.

Saudi Arabia has called a summit to resolve the crisis to refocus the alliance on fighting the Houthis, who control Sanaa and most major population centers. The kingdom hosted indirect talks to this effect between leaders of the Southern Transitional Council and Yemeni government officials in Jeddah this week.

“I urge the government and the Southern Transitional Council to seize the opportunity and resolve their differences through peaceful means,” Martin Griffith, the UN special envoy for Yemen, said in a tweet on Thursday.

Hadi’s government has said it will not attend a summit unless the transitional council hands the city of Aden.

“We will not sit with the so-called transitional at a dialogue table at all,” Interior Minister Ahmed al-Maisari said in an audio tape released by government officials on Wednesday.

“If there is to be a dialogue with our brothers in the United Arab Emirates,” he added, “the UAE is the main and genuine party in the conflict between us and them.

In June, the UAE reduced the size of its military forces in Yemen but retained influence through tens of thousands of southern separatist fighters it trained and armed.

Abu Dhabi, which has called for a political solution to the crisis, said on Wednesday it was confident the Jeddah meeting would succeed. Yemeni sources said the summit could result in a cabinet reshuffle in Hadi’s government to include the transitional council.

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