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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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Yemeni prime minister resigns as rebel advance sees clashes in the capital

Clashes between Shia Houthi rebels and pro-government forces

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SANA'A, Yemen - Yemen's Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa resigned Sunday amid escalating clashes in the capital, Sana'a between Shia Houthi rebels and pro-government forces, which have raised concerns that the country may descend into full-scale civil war.

The Houthi rebels claim they have taken over government headquarters, key ministries and state broadcasters, although these reports have been difficult to verify with the Yemeni government.

The rebels had been advancing on the capital for several weeks, while Shias in Sana'a and surrounding towns had organized mass protests in support of the rebels, who are demanding greater rights and better representation in the Yemeni government.

Prime Minister Basindwa has held out against calls for him to resign for some weeks, but as reports emerged that rebels had entered the capital and taken over key buildings, he chose to step down to prevent a larger conflict erupting.

Several dozen have died and hundreds of civilians have fled their homes in the crisis, with this latest development coming just one day after a United Nations envoy announced a truce had been agreed between the government and rebels.

The truce was reportedly agreed Saturday following talks managed by United Nations envoy Jamal Benomar, but it is yet to be signed and it isn't clear how Sunday's developments will impact that agreement.

Prime Minister Basindwa said Sunday he would resign in order to pave the way for a ceasefire between the rebels and President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, but there has been no comment from the Yemeni president following his prime minister's resignation and it is unclear if the truce will still be signed.

President Hadi had earlier described the rebel offensive as a "coup attempt".

Revealing divides within the Yemeni government itself over the political crisis unfolding in the country, a statement on the Yemeni interior ministry's website urged the security forces to avoid confrontation with the rebels, describing them as "friends of the police".

Further raising concerns of a civil war unfolding, a statement by rebel spokesman, Mohamed Abdulsalam has suggested they are aligned with members of the Yemeni security forces. "The military and security apparatus have supported the popular revolt," Mr Abdulsalam said on his Facebook page, although he did not provide more detail.

Shelling and gunfire was heard across the capital Sunday, despite the imposition of an overnight curfew as rebels reportedly fought to seize a military base and the Iman University complex, which are both seen as strongholds of Sunni Islamist fighters and Islah political party loyalists.

Yemen destabilised after an outbreak of anti-government protests in 2011, which forced the then-President Ali Abdallah Saleh from office, with Basindwa becoming prime minister in the government that succeeded him.

The violence is an escalation of a long-running dispute, however. Houthis, who are part of the minority Zaidi Shia community, have periodically clashed with government forces since 2004, demanding greater autonomy for their northern heartland of Saada province.

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