SOUTH YEMENIS RALLY FOR SELF-RULE
Witnesses said more than 10,000 demonstrators chanted anti-government slogans [AFP]
Thousands of people have rallied on the streets of southern Yemen to demand the restoration of the region’s independence.
Tuesday’s protests coincide with the visit of Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, who met Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, in the capital Sanaa.
Moussa was to discuss the conflict in the far north of the country, where rebels from the Shia Zaidi sect have been leading an uprising for the past five years with fighting intensifying in recent weeks.
After the talks, Moussa, the head of the 22-nation bloc, said that the Arab League “confirms its support to Yemen’s unity and stability”.
“The president has expressed openness in engaging in dialogue with the different political sides inside Yemen and abroad, no matter what the differences are, and he expressed his readiness to hold talks with them.
“The unity of Yemen does not concern only Yemenis but all Arabs, and what’s important is a dialogue among everyone for the unity and the stability of Yemen,” he added.
Witnesses said more than 10,000 demonstrators marched in the city of Dhaleh while thousands more turned out in various centres in Lahej and Abyan provinces.
Protesters brandished the flag of the former independent state and chanted anti-government slogans demanding the separation of the south of Yemen from the north and urging Arab League support for a renewed breakaway.
Abdullah al-Faqih, a professor of political science at Sanaa University, told Al Jazeera: “The southerners were turned into second class citizens; they were marginalised politically, socially and economically.
“If the regime doesn’t react decisively and in a timely manner, we will have secession as a real cause, because if you kill people, forget about unity,” he said.
Yemen is the Middle East’s poorest country and southerners complain they have fared even worse than their fellow countrymen since unification with the north in 1990.
The conflict between the Houthi fighters and government forces first broke out in 2004, but last month the fighting intensified as the group pushed to topple the government.