Thousands of supporters of a Shia movement popular in Yemen's north flooded the capital city of Sana'a on Monday in a public display of strength, a day after the Houthi movement leader, Abdulmalek al-Houthi, called on his supporters to mount anti-government protests across the country.
The protesters, who demanded the overthrow of the government, also expressed anger at corruption within the state and an increase in fuel prices after the Yemeni government slashed subsidies in late July. The protests triggered concerns of an outbreak of violence between supporters of the Shia Houthi movement, government forces and the Islah party, a Sunni political faction, according to an Al-Jazeera report. The protesters also reportedly chanted slogans against the U.S. and Israel.
Reports said that at least 10,000 people turned up for the protests with demonstrators arriving in Sana'a by bus from neighboring provinces and gathered at Change Square near Sana'a University. Although not all the protesters were Houthis, the general consensus was that the present government is not doing enough to effect change, the report said.
While demanding that fuel subsidies be reinstated, al-Houthi is also calling for the dissolution of the government led by President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi in favor of a more representative government. Al-Houthi called on his supporters to reoccupy Change Square, where protests overthrew the previous government of Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, and warned Hadi of “other steps” if the demands were not met by Friday.
The Houthis are part of a religious and social movement, which includes an armed wing that took root in the Shia dominated north almost a decade ago. The group, which reportedly played a crucial role in the 2011 uprising that removed Saleh from power, has also fought back Islah's fighters and seized control of the northern provinces of Sadah and Amran.
Government officials fear Houthis could clash with Islah members and use it as an excuse to bring their fighters into Sana'a. "They [Houthis] build a presence, provoke violence and react with violence," an official reportedly told Al-Jazeera.
Ali al-Bokhaiti, a Houthi spokesman, reportedly denied plans to bring fighting to the city and said that the protests were “aimed at meeting our goals, which are the goals of everyone in Yemen” and promised that the protests would be peaceful. On the other hand, al-Bokhaiti also said that the Houthis had a right to defend themselves.
"If there is an official attack by the government, of course we will defend ourselves," he said, adding: "But if there is some accident we will try to resolve it peacefully."