Middle East

Yemen conflict: Major pro-rebel demonstration in Sanaa

Demonstrators in Sanaa 20/07/2016 Image copyright AP
Image caption The Saudi-led coalition is fighting Houthi rebels who control the Yemeni capital Sanaa

Large numbers of Yemenis have taken part in a demonstration in the capital Sanaa in support of Houthi rebels and their allies, who control the city.

Demonstrators backed a new governing council announced by the rebels.

Shortly afterwards, bombs were reported to have been dropped nearby by planes of the Saudi-led coalition backing the internationally recognised government.

The Saudis have been repeatedly criticised over civilian deaths in air strikes in Yemen.

On Thursday the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said it was withdrawing staff from six hospitals in north Yemen after a coalition air strike hit one of its buildings, killing 19 people.

Separately, the US military has cut the number of its advisers directly supporting the Saudis' air war in Yemen from about 45 to five, US officials announced. However they said this was not related to growing international concern over civilian casualties.

In another development, Saudi officials said one person had been killed and six others injured in cross-border rocket fire from Yemen that hit the city of Najran. It was the third such attack in a week.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Some estimates put the crowd at hundreds of thousands
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Others sought a higher vantage point in Sanaa
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Houthis took over the city in 2014
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Snipers were in place to ensure security at the rally

Sanaa-based political analyst Hisham al-Omeisy, who was at Saturday's rally, told the BBC it was attended by nearly 100,000 people.

"Suddenly the Saudi jets started circling on top of us, and as always, we thought they would just fly by, just trying to scare the crowd," he said, speaking to the World Service's Newshour programme.

"Suddenly they started bombing and the crowd started running. I basically bolted out of the area. People started screaming... Because everybody's very well armed, they started shooting their AK-47s and their machine guns into the sky."

AP news agency said the presidential palace in the city and other areas had been hit in coalition airstrikes, leaving an unknown number of casualties.

Yemen's Mareb Press website said coalition planes had raided al-Nahdein mountain, overlooking the palace.

The Saudi-led force has been carrying out air strikes in Yemen since March 2015 to try to oust the rebels and defend the internationally recognised government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

The UN says more than 6,500 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since then. It estimates that more than 80% of the population needs humanitarian aid.

UN figures also suggest that forced displacement across Yemen is on the rise, affecting more than two million people.

Image copyright AP
Image caption A hospital in the northern town of Abs was badly damaged in a coalition air strike in the past week