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Shi'ite Houthis Seize Yemeni City of Taiz

by VOA News March 22, 2015

Shi'ite Houthi rebels have seized the central Yemen city of Taiz in a new escalation of the conflict in the Arabian Peninsula country.

The Houthi militias, who are opposed to Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, a U.S. ally, took control of the city's military airport without a struggle from local authorities late Saturday.

On Sunday, they patrolled parts of Taiz, Yemen's third largest city, with Houthi gunmen firing shots into the air to disperse protestors demonstrating against them.

With the deepening crisis, the United States withdrew all its personnel from Yemen Saturday, a day after suicide bombers killed at least 137 people at two mosques in the rebel-controlled capital, Sana'a.

The U.S. State Department said in a statement that the temporary relocation was due to "the deteriorating security situation in Yemen."

About 100 U.S. special forces had been stationed at al-Anad air base in the south, from which the U.S. has launched drones against al-Qaida targets inside Yemen. The State Department said the U.S. would "continue to actively monitor terrorist threats emanating from Yemen and have capabilities postured in the area to address them."

Yemeni security officials said the rebels are backed by supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced from office in the wake of the original Arab uprisings in 2011.

As the unrest continues, the U.N. Security Council said it would hold an emergency meeting on Yemen.

Hadi is in the main southern city of Aden, 180 kilometers south of Taiz, where he made his first televised speech Saturday since fleeing house arrest in Sana'a last month.

Hadi demanded the Houthi insurgents leave the government ministries they have occupied, pull their forces out of the capital and return to U.N.-sponsored peace talks.

He also denounced what he called a "coup attempt" against him after an unidentified warplane fired a missile last week at the presidential palace in Aden. Hadi was not hurt.

Yemen has sunk into violence and chaos since a popular uprising ousted strongman Saleh.

Iranian-allied Houthis seized the capital in September and have battled with Sunnis as they try to expand their authority.

A spokesman for the Yemeni embassy in Washington, Mohammed al-Basha, wrote on Twitter Saturday that he is "hearing the loud and clear beating of the drums of war" in Yemen.

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