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Yemen on high alert as rebels push to overthrow government

Tens of thousands of Shiite rebel supporters are in the capital Sanaa in a bid to topple the government. Thousands of armed rebels strengthened their position on Wednesday as they pressed on with their campaign.

Led by heavily armed Shiite rebels, thousands of demonstrators are demanding the government step down by the end of the week. Rebel commander Abdulmalik al-Huthi said the authorities must meet protesters' grievances by the end of the week, or additional forms of "legitimate action" would take place.

According to reports, rebel militias were deploying on rooftops in parts of the capital and armed rebel convoys were entering the capital and setting up checkpoints. Military officials said forces were on standby in case of an attack.

The protests were sparked by a steep rise in gas prices - due to a government stop to fuel subsidies. The demonstrations are gaining in strength as supporters continue to join the anti-government camps. On Wednesday, men armed with Kalashnikovs were seen guarding walled camps set up by the demonstrators.

In the northwestern province of al-Jouf, a local reporter told the German press agency (dpa) that at least 20 militants had been killed in clashes with police that began on Wednesday night.

"Both sides are using heavy and medium weapons in the fighting that is still going on," he told dpa via telephone.

'All measures to ensure safety'

In a bid to stem the crisis, President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi has called for dialogue with the rebels and invited representatives to join a "unity government."

A delegation was due to meet rebel leader Huthi later on Thursday, AFP news agency reported, to deliver a letter "inviting dialogue and encouraging them to join a unity government."

Yemen's Supreme Security Committee, its most senior security body, warned earlier in the week it would take "all measures to ensure the safety and security of the country."

Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi said in televised remarks during a government emergency meeting that he would take "decisive and legal action" against the rebels and said the demonstrations were "unacceptable."

Shiites are a minority in Yemen, aside from the north of the country, where they make up the majority. They have been engaging in fighting with government forces for around a decade, though a six-year insurgency against then President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been in power for 33 years, officially ended in 2010.

sb/glb (AP, AFP)

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