CAIRO - Yemeni security forces opened fire Tuesday on a crowd of Zaidi Shi'ite protesters who were trying to advance towards the prime minister's headquarters in the capital Sanaa. At least four people were killed and five others were wounded. Rebel leader Abdel Malik an Houthy had threatened in a video message Monday to topple the government if his group's demands were not met. Amateur video showed victims of the shootout sprawled on the ground and others being carried away from the area.
Government forces, dressed in army fatigues, appeared to hold their ground, firing mostly above the heads of protesters, as the crowd pulled back. An interior ministry spokesman insisted the Houthy supporters were fired on after they tried to storm the prime minister's compound.
Witnesses say the Yemeni Army closed off streets leading to the government complex, preventing other protesters from reaching the building. Al Arabiya TV reported the protesters also attempted to storm the official government radio station.
Abdel Malik al Houthi, who leads the anti-government group, told his supporters in a video message late Monday the government must respond to what he called their “just” demands or they would not back down. He accused the government of corruption and of taking orders from the United States.
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi asked the government to step down last week and offered to appoint a new one, in a bid to reach a compromise with the rebels. Hadi also canceled fuel price increases, a step the rebels had been demanding.
Al Arabiya TV reports the rebels are demanding the government give them a port on the Red Sea, in order to access their land-locked enclave in the north of the country. Neighboring Saudi Arabia has repeatedly accused Iran of supporting the rebels and of seeking a Red Sea foothold.
Weeks of protests by the Houthy rebels and counter-protests by supporters of the government have wreaked economic havoc in Yemen, which is already the poorest country in the Arab world.
Political and economic leaders, like Sanaa Chamber of Commerce head Jamal Mutrib are urging everyone to step back from the brink.
He says business leaders are calling on all sides to use self restraint and to behave in a pragmatic manner with respect to national issues and not to impose their views on everyone.
The Houthy rebels waged a six-year armed rebellion against the government of former President Ali Abdallah Saleh from 2004 to 2010. The Arab press says the former president, who stepped down in accordance with an Arab peace plan in 2012, has now joined forces with the rebels to pressure his successor Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.