Yemen crisis: China evacuates citizens and foreigners from Aden

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image sourceReuters
image captionChina says it sent a frigate expressly to evacuate foreigners from Aden

China's navy has evacuated 225 foreign nationals and almost 600 Chinese citizens from Yemen's southern port of Aden, amid fierce fighting there.

China says it is the first time its military has rescued foreign nationals from a danger zone.

Houthi rebels in the city have been fighting troops loyal to ousted Yemeni President, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

On Friday, the rebels withdrew from the presidential palace, following Saudi-led air strikes.

Over the past two weeks, fighting in Yemen has left more than 500 people dead and some 1,700 wounded, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said.

image sourceReuters
image captionWarplanes have dropped weapons and medical aid to fighters defending Aden

This week, Shia Houthi rebels pushed through to the heart of Aden using tanks and armoured vehicles.

But on Friday they were forced from the Crater neighbourhood and the presidential palace they overran the day before.

Saudi-backed fighters loyal to Mr Hadi also say they received an airdrop of arms supplies from coalition planes.

Elsewhere in Yemen, a military base in the south-eastern port city of Mukalla was taken over by al-Qaeda militants on Friday. It happened a day after fighters broke into the town's jail freeing prisoners.

A military official said al-Qaeda "took the headquarters of the 2nd Military Region in the afternoon without resistance".

'Legitimate government'

image sourceReuters
image captionChina says it is the first time its navy has evacuated foreigners from a war zone
image sourceAFP
image captionHouthi fighters have set up checkpoints in Aden as they battle for control
image sourceAFP
image captionHeavy fighting in Aden has caused dozens of casualties

Chinese naval frigates were carrying out anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia when they were diverted to Yemen to evacuate people trapped by the fighting.

The evacuees were taken by naval frigates across the Red Sea to Djibouti, to take flights home.

The non-Chinese evacuees included 176 people from Pakistan, said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. There were smaller numbers from other countries, including Ethiopia, Singapore, the UK, Italy and Germany.

Ms Hua said it was the first time China had helped evacuate foreign citizens - and only the second time that China has used warships to evacuate its own citizens from a conflict zone, says the BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing.

As well as China's mission, a Turkish naval frigate has evacuated 55 Turks from Aden, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says.

media captionShaimaa Khalil spoke to a family arriving back in Pakistan from Yemen

Saudi Arabia began air strikes in Yemen on 25 March.

The Saudi government says the aim of its operation is to protect President Hadi's "legitimate government". It says it has no plans to deploy ground forces for now.

The Houthis: Zaidi Shia-led rebels from the north, who seized control of Sanaa last year and have since been expanding their control

President Hadi: Fled to Saudi Arabia after rebel forces advanced on his stronghold in the southern city of Aden

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula: Seen by the US as the most dangerous offshoot of al-Qaeda, AQAP opposes both the Houthis and President Hadi.

Islamic State: A Yemeni affiliate of IS has recently emerged, which seeks to eclipse AQAP