WORLD

Thousands protest in Yemen against Saudi-led blockade

THOUSANDS PROTEST IN YEMEN AGAINST SAUDI-LED BLOCKADE

Young and old, desk clerks and activists, Yemenis from all walks of life took to the streets Monday to protest a Saudi-led blockade that has left thousands struggling to survive.

"This siege is oppressive, and the whole world is sleeping!" people chanted as thousands gathered outside the UN offices in the rebel-held capital Sanaa.

Their faces painted the colours of the Yemeni flag or in traditional dress, protesters marched to demand the end of a blockade on the country's ports, airports and border crossings, imposed last week by a Saudi-led military coalition battling the country's Huthi rebels.

A young girl had her face painted half black, half white -- her red flowered veil completing the colours of Yemen's national flag.

An elderly man had tucked a portrait of Shiite rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi into his head wrap.

Saudi Arabia and its allies have said the tightening of restrictions on Yemen is a direct response to a missile attack against Riyadh earlier this month, claimed by the Iran-backed Huthis.

The United Nations last month blacklisted the Saudi-led coalition for the killing and maiming of children in Yemen.

The Yemen war has killed thousands and brought the impoverished country to the brink of famine, as the coalition continues to fight alongside the government against the Huthis and their ally, strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saleh al-Samad, the head of the Huthi political council, demanded that the coalition end its blockade on Yemen -- where both parties in the conflict stand accused of neglecting civilian safety.

"The right choice for the Saudi regime and its allies is to stop the war, end the blockade and engage in direct dialogue," Samad said at the rally.

"Continuing the aggression and the blockade will force us to... harm those nations in defence of our people".

The coalition has said it has reopened the port of Aden and a land border, both controlled by its allies in the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

But the rebel-held Red Sea port of Hodeida remains closed. The port is crucial to UN aid efforts, as it is a central valve for a significant portion of Yemenis in need.

Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the Yemen war in March 2015 with the stated aim of rolling back the rebels' territorial gains and restoring the government to power.

The United Nations now lists Yemen as the world's number one humanitarian crisis, with 17 million people in need of food, seven million of whom are at risk of famine.

UN aid chief Mark Lowcock last week warned that unless the blockade is lifted, Yemen will face "the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims".

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