BY MOHAMMED GHOBARI
Yemen’s government and Shi’ite Muslim Houthi rebels pursued talks on Thursday to end a crisis that has seen weeks of sometimes bloody protests in the capital, after the two sides gave conflicting accounts of progress in the negotiations.
The Houthis, who follow the small Zaidi branch of Shi’ite Islam, have been embroiled in a decade-old conflict with the central government in Sunni-dominated Sanaa, fighting for more territory and control in the north.
In the past weeks, they have capitalised on an unpopular decision by the government to reverse fuel subsidies to launch protests in the capital Sanaa. These turned bloody this week with the killing of four Shi’ite protesters.
Houthi protesters have been blocking the main road to Sanaa’s airport and holding sit-ins for weeks at ministries in an attempt to oust the government and restore fuel subsidies.
Earlier on Thursday, a member of the government’s negotiating team said both sides had signed an agreement that included a further reduction of fuel prices and the formation of a new government to end the crisis.
The Defence Ministry’s website said a political breakthrough was “imminent” and one Houthi member was also optimistic about a breakthrough. But Mohammed Abdulsalam, a spokesman for the Houthis, said on his Facebook page: “We have not reached a final agreement or signed a deal and communications are continuing.”
Later, a member of the Houthis’ political bureau, Abdel Malik al-Ijri, said without elaborating that the main issues had been agreed and “small issues” remained to be settled.
A diplomatic source in Sanaa tempered optimism and said the two sides were far from agreement.
“Nothing has been signed as of yet and nothing has been agreed to. There are ideas that are being thrown back and forth. For political reasons, each side is trying to say the negotiations are ongoing. It’s way of calming the nerves,” the source told Reuters.