Massive protests in Aden to support separate rule for south Yemen

Tens of thousands turn out in support of Southern Transitional Council led by former Aden governor

Supporters of the Transitional Southern Council attend a rally to demand the secession of south Yemen, in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman
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A recent protest by tens of thousands of Yemenis in Aden calling for independence from the north was the latest demonstration of increased political activity in the country's south.

The demonstration on July 7 was in support of the Southern Transitional Council, which is led by the former governor of Aden, Brigadier Aidarous Al Zubaidi.

The protest took place amid more than two years of war against the Houthi militias controlling Sanaa.

While the large protest echoed others in support of the Southern Transitional Council, small protests have also emerged opposing it. However, the southern movement, which was established on July 7, 2007, demanding independence of the south, continues to be most popular.

The protest marked the anniversary of the start of the 1994 war between Yemen’s north and south that led to the unification of the country. There have been protests every year on this date, demanding independence of the south.

Mansour Saleh, a member of the media committee of the Southern Transitional Council, told The National that last Friday's protest was "a type of referendum on independence and authorisation to the southern council".

While he acknowledged there are some who are critical of the Southern Transitional Council, he insisted there is no real opposition to the council but small disputes. He went on to say that “the main reason of these disputes are misunderstanding”, without going into detail. He said the Council is a partner with the Arab coalition of countries fighting to defeat the Iran-backed Houthis, and extremist groups like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Southern Transitional Council was formed on 4 May and consists of a president and 25 members from all eight southern provinces, including three women. It aims to be the representative of the south and to rule the south if the government fails to do its duty to the region.

Mr Al Zubaidi, the Council’s president, has contacted various countries and politicians to get support for the Southern Transitional Council. He held talks this week with British MEP James Carver.

Mr Carver told The National that he had a good discussion with Mr Al Zubaidi, saying they discussed the possibility of setting up a federal system as "the best way forward". Mr Carver explained that "the southern people want to have a federal state" that should be supported.

As the war in Yemen continues, a federal solution is being considered as a way towards a peace agreement. In the aftermath of the Yemen uprising of 2011 that led to the downfall of president Ali Abdullah Saleh and the establishment of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), there had been a plan for the creation of a federal state in Yemen.

However, the Houthis rejected this proposal.

"We cannot continue with a proxy war ... there is a humanitarian crisis that has to be dealt with," Mr Carver said, referring to fears of a famine and a devastating cholera outbreak.

He also said the people of Aden "clearly have faith in the STC and it is what they want", adding "it doesn’t matter what I as a Brit want, but what they want is the most important".