SANAA/NEW YORK: Yemeni militias on Wednesday dispersed a protest in Sanaa staged by dozens of women demanding the handover of the body of slain former President Ali Abdullah Saleh for burial.
“There is no god but Allah and the martyr is a friend of Allah,” the women shouted in front of the Saleh Mosque, named after the former president, and the largest in the capital.
Witnesses say the protest lasted less than an hour before Houthi militias violently dispersed it. Video footage of the women fleeing the scene was posted on social media.
Witnesses said a second group of women gathered in front of Sanaa Military Hospital, shouting, “The people want the remains of the leader.”
It was unclear on Wednesday whether the Houthis had already buried Saleh’s body, according to the Agency France-Presse.
The previous day, Khaled Hussein Al-Yamani, Yemen’s permanent representative to the UN, revealed that the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, told a closed session of the UN Security Council that Houthi militias are assassinating leaders of Saleh’s General People’s Congress party (GPC).
Al-Yamani said Houthi militants have executed “thousands” of people in the past two days, adding that there is an agreement to evacuate UN humanitarian workers from Sanaa in light of recent developments.
Koro Bessho, president of the UN Security Council, said the council strongly condemns the missile attacks carried out by Houthi militias against Saudi Arabia, stressing that the council has imposed an arms embargo on the rebels.
Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN secretary-general, called for a negotiated settlement.
In Washington, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that Saleh’s murder would either push the conflict toward UN-led peace negotiations, or create an “even more vicious war.”
Either way, he suggested, in the short-term, it would likely worsen an already dire humanitarian situation “for the innocent people” in Yemen.
“This is where we’ve all got to roll up our sleeves,” Mattis said. “What are you going to do about medicine and food and clean water and cholera? I think there has got to be a lot more focus on the humanitarian side right now.”
In another development, the Houthi militias have detained more than 40 media staff, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Wednesday, demanding their immediate release.
They reportedly include staff of Yemen Today — a channel affiliated with Saleh. Houthis overran the channel’s Sanaa offices on Saturday, attaching with rocket-propelled grenades and wounding three guards the press watchdog said.
“This hostage-taking is typical of the climate of hostility in Yemen toward journalists, who are often targeted in this conflict,” said RSF’s Alexandra El-Khazen.
A GPC official said some of the detained staff had since been transferred to prison while others were still being held in the television’s offices.
“The Houthis were exerting pressure on them to change their coverage, to issue certain statements, and report the betrayal of former President Saleh and accuse him of working for the Arab coalition. But the journalists refused to do it,” the official said.
A spokesman for the Committee to Protect Journalists called for the immediate release of the journalists, saying the Houthi attack on Yemen Today “shows profound contempt for press freedom.”