Mass rally in Sanaa marks 35th anniversary of GPC

SANAA: Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis descended on Sanaa on Thursday in a major show of force for ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The rally marking 35 years since the founding of Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) sends out a signal that the strongman remains a force to be reckoned with.
“We came today to the square to show our faith in the General People’s Congress and in Ali Abdullah Saleh,” Saeed al Obeidi said at the rally.
Chanting “With our souls, with our blood, we serve you, Yemen,” crowds poured into the four-square-kilometre square and poured into the streets of the capital, waving the blue flag of the GPC and carrying pictures of the 75-year-old Saleh.
The ensuing civil war in the country has killed thousands and brought the Arabian Peninsula country to the brink of famine.
Saleh’s supporters had travelled to Sanaa from across the country, camping out in Sabaeen Square overnight ahead of the rally.
The Ansar Allah had set up checkpoints at the main entrances to the city. But they did nothing to stop the demonstrators from reaching the square, where the rebels had also deployed but did not interfere with the rally. Saleh appeared in person at the rally and gave a brief speech behind bulletproof glass, surrounded by heavily armed guards.
“We are political pioneers with a solid anchor, and we have been facing conspiracies against us since 2011,” he told the cheering crowd, referring to the start of protests in Sanaa that eventually led to his resignation.
Saleh said he was ready to deploy “tens of thousands of fighters to the frontlines”, on condition the rebel-led government train and pay them.
Analysts have said the rally serves in part as public protest against the Ansar Allah, who with Saleh have run the capital since 2014.
The rebels have rapidly risen in a parallel government in Sanaa, and now hold clout in the city’s economy, defence and educational ministries.
Former troops and civil servants in the parallel rebel-run government have not been paid for months.
A war of words between Saleh and Abdul Malik al Huthi, whose group have historically clashed with Saleh’s troops, has escalated in the past week.