March 12, 2015 / 11:04 AM / 3 years ago

Houthis open fire on protesters in southern Yemen, one dead

SANAA (Reuters) - Members of the Shi‘ite Muslim militia that controls much of Yemen opened fire on hundreds of people protesting at their presence in the southerly city of al-Bayda on Thursday, killing one and wounding eight others, local officials and medical sources said.

The Houthis, who are led by a northern clan of the same name, have in recent months become the de facto rulers of northern Yemen, seizing the capital Sanaa in September and forcing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his government to announce their resignations.

The province of al-Bayda, which is mostly Sunni Muslim, is one of several that the Iranian-backed Houthis have effectively taken over since September by sending in gunmen and forcing local officials to cooperate.

A medical source told Reuters one person had died and eight more had been wounded in the shooting at the demonstration.

The Houthis have frequently used firearms or beatings in recent months to suppress protests in towns and cities including the capital.

The Houthi takeover has not only increased sectarian tensions in Yemen but also alienated many who believe Hadi is still the legitimate president, raising the prospect of a civil war.

Hadi came to power in a Gulf-brokered transfer of power following a mass uprising in 2011 against his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, and has the backing of the West and Gulf Arab neighbors.

He escaped house arrest in Sanaa last month, and has sought to re-establish his presidency in the southern port city of Aden. U.N.-brokered talks to end the political standoff have had little success so far.

Security in Yemen is an international concern due to the presence of one of the most active wings of al Qaeda and because it shares a long border with top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and overlooks a major global sea-lane.

Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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