Yemeni police on Tuesday shot dead seven Shiite rebel activists who were attempting to storm the government headquarters in an escalation of demonstrations, a protest organiser said.
The incident comes after rebel chief Abdulmalik al-Huthi vowed to step up protests and withy Saudi Arabia accusing rebels of “conspiring” to destabilise Yemen.
Activists have been camped out in the capital for weeks in a campaign to bring down the government and secure greater representation in state institutions.
Thousands of them marched towards the city centre from the so-called Change Square, epicentre of the 2011 uprising against then president Ali Abdullah Saleh, which the rebels have made a major focus of their protest.
Some activists blocked the main thoroughfares, while others marched on government headquarters, witnesses said.
They were met by anti-riot police who fired tear gas, water cannon and live rounds, “killing seven of them and wounding dozens,” activist Khaled al-Madani told AFP.
An interior ministry official confirmed that police had stopped protesters, who “tried to storm… the premises of the council of ministers,” in a statement on the official Saba news agency.
AFP could not independently verify the Huthi toll.
On Sunday, the rebels said two demonstrators were shot dead and around 40 were wounded in clashes with police special forces near the interior ministry, where the rebels have been expanding their sit-in and blocking a main road leading to the airport.
The next day, the chief of polices special forces was replaced.
Huthi protesters have forced shut the ministries of electricity and telecommunications, and rebels Monday prevented government vehicles from entering or leaving the capital.
Speaking late Monday, the Huthi commander vowed that “we will continue our escalation,” while saying “negotiations will continue.”
So far, Ansarullah has rejected overtures from President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi in offering a new prime minister and reducing a disputed fuel price hike.
Both concessions were core demands of the Huthis who launched their protest on August 18, after battling loyalist forces for months for control of key cities north of Sanaa.
-Rebel escalation ‘conspiracy’
Analysts say the rebels are trying to establish themselves as the dominant political force in the northern highlands bordering Saudi Arabia, where Shiites are the majority.
In a telephone call to Hadi, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal voiced his country’s “deep concern over the dangerous escalation by Huthi militias in Sanaa and its surroundings of Jawf and Marib,” north and east of Sanaa.
“Yemen’s security, stability, and unity are strategically important” to the kingdom, the region, and the international community, Saba quoted Faisal as saying.
“Any attempt to undermine it under whatever excuse reflects a hidden agenda conspiring to destabilise the whole region,” said Faisal.
Authorities in Sunni-majority Yemen and Saudi Arabia, accuse Shiite-dominated Iran of backing the rebels, and Hadi urged Tehran Saturday to be “reasonable” in dealing with his country.
The rebels have been battling the government for years from their Saada heartland, complaining of marginalisation under Saleh whom Hadi replaced in 2012.