Middle East

Yemen unrest: Saudi Arabia closes embassy

Houthi militia stand watch over a rally celebrating the Houthis takeover in Sanaa on 11 February Image copyright European Photopress Agency
Image caption Shia Houthi rebels have taken control of the capital Sanaa and are furthering their control elsewhere

Saudi Arabia has suspended operations at its embassy in Yemen, as the security situation in the country deteriorates.

It is the first Arab country to suspend its diplomatic mission. Many Western embassies have also closed.

The Saudis have long played a key role in Yemen, but their influence has been shaken by a recent political takeover by the Houthis, a Shia rebel group.

The Houthis ousted the US-backed government last week.

In a statement Saudi Arabia said its staff had been evacuated from the embassy and had "arrived safely in the kingdom [Saudi Arabia]".

Germany and Italy also joined the diplomatic exodus on Friday, following decisions by the US, Britain and France to end their missions.

The German foreign ministry said the situation in Yemen had become "unacceptably dangerous".

The Houthis seized power from the government in the capital Sanaa last week.

On Friday, hundreds of Yemenis gathered after prayers in the central cities of Taaz and Ibb to denounce the takeover, witnesses said.

The Houthis, made up of minority Shias, have been expanding south from their stronghold in the north, putting them in conflict with al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP) and other Sunni groups.

'Civil war risk'

On Thursday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told the Security Council: "Yemen is collapsing before our eyes. We cannot stand by and watch."

Meanwhile, UN enjoy Jamal Benomar warned that the country was at a crossroads between "civil war and disintegration".

Al Qaeda and other Sunni militants have stepped up attacks against the Houthis.

On Thursday the Ansar al-Sharia group, which is linked to AQAP, captured an army base in the Shabwa province in southern Yemen.

It set off a bomb at the site in the central town Bayhan before capturing soldiers and seizing heavy weaponry, one official told the AFP news agency.

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