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France to close embassy in Yemen, urges nationals to leave

Mohammed Huwais, AFP | Yemenite soldiers stand guard outside the American embassy in Saana on February 11, 2015, a day after the US decided to close the diplomatic mission ‘indefinitely’
3 min

France on Wednesday said it will close its embassy in Yemen due to mounting security concerns, urging French nationals to leave the country as soon as possible, the embassy said on Wednesday.

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“Given the latest political developments and for security reasons, the embassy asks you to temporarily leave Yemen as quickly as possible,” the embassy said in a statement on its website, noting the embassy will be closed Friday until further notice.

Britain also announced earlier Wednesday that they would close their embassies there and immediately began evacuating their diplomatic staff while the US announced the closure of their embassy on Tuesday.

The closures come as Houthi rebels, armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and dressed in police uniforms and civilian clothes, patrolled the main boulevards of the capital, Sanaa, some in pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns.

Scattered protests could be seen in the city, with demonstrators denouncing the Houthis for taking power and dissolving parliament. Shops closed early and helicopters also hovered overhead.

Houthis attacked one demonstration, stabbing and beating protesters trying to reach the local United Nations office, witnesses said. The rebels detained a number of people as well, they said.

In the central city of Bayda, also held by the Houthis, the rebels dispersed another protest, wounding a coordinator of the anti-Houthi movement, witnesses said.
In Taiz, Yemen’s most populous city and one not held by the rebels, thousands flocked to the streets to protest the group.

“The security situation in Yemen has continued to deteriorate over recent days,” Britain’s Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood said. “Regrettably we now judge that our embassy staff and premises are at increased risk.”

The diplomatic missions of many Arab Gulf countries opposing the Houthis have already evacuated their staff.

Houthi leader warns against foreign meddling

Yemen has been in crisis for months, since the Shiite Houthi rebels began their offensive in September. Earlier Tuesday, US officials said the embassy closure would not affect counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda’s Yemen branch, which America views as the world’s most dangerous branch of the terror group.

The United Nations has been trying to broker talks between the Houthis and others in Yemen since the Shiite rebels dissolved parliament after earlier besieging the country’s president, who later resigned while armed militants surrounded his home.

Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, who leads the Shiite rebels, warned his enemies Tuesday not to stand in his hard-line movement’s way and denounced foreign governments for removing their diplomats.

“We will not accept pressures. They are of no use,” al-Houthi said in speech broadcast on the rebel group’s own al-Masseria TV network. “Whoever harms the interest of this country could see that their interests in this country are also harmed.”

Al-Houthi made a series of similarly threatening but vague remarks, and offered no explanation for what specific retaliatory action he might have in mind.

The Houthis are traditionally based in northern Yemen bordering Saudi Arabia. Many link the Houthis to regional Shiite power Iran, though the rebels deny they are backed by the Islamic Republic.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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