SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Tens of thousands rallied in Yemen's capital and across the country on Monday, answering a Shiite rebel call for protests over authorities ending fuel subsidies while threatening to stage prolonged sit-ins to challenge the government.
Abdel al-Malek al-Hawthi, a top leader of Yemen's Hawthi tribe, had urged people to rise up against what he described as the country's "corrupt" government. Thousands streamed into Change Square in Yemen's capital, Sanaa.
"Oh Yemeni people, we call upon you to rally in the streets against the corrupt government which failed in carrying any reforms," al-Hawthi said, vowing to hold sit-ins while giving the government a Friday ultimatum to review its policies. He urged the military to side with the people.
The square witnessed a yearlong uprising against Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh that forced him to step down.
The demonstrations by the Hawthi and its militias put the capital security forces on alert. Riot police deployed to main streets and beefed up security measures at the main entrances to the capital.
Yemen's President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi said that lifting the subsidies was "inevitable" and cautioned against moves that could endanger the nation's stability, in apparent warning to Hawthis.
The Hawthis had waged a six-year insurgency in the north against Saleh which officially ended in 2010. After Saleh's ouster, they have fought ultraconservative Islamists in several northern cities and towns, accusing them of turning their strongholds into incubators of extremism.
Analyst Maged al-Mazhaji told The Associated Press that the Hawthis feel empowered by their latest victories in the northern cities at a time there is a "political vacuum in the capital."
"They are searching for success in the streets of Sanaa," he said, warning that the group has a large following and is armed, which raises concerns of possible armed confrontations in the capital.
Yemen, the poorest Arab nation, is facing multiple challenges.
In addition to the presence of the world's most dangerous al-Qaida offshoot in much of its lawless hinterlands and several cities, Yemen also faces a secessionist movement in the south.