High drama at Yemen talks as slipper hurled at rebel leader

18th June 2015, Comments 0 comments

Fisticuffs broke out Thursday at a Geneva press conference by Yemeni rebels when their leader was attacked by a slipper-wielding woman and others accusing them of mass killings in the country's south.

The incident underscored the deep divisions between the various sides involved in trying to get Iran-backed rebels and the exiled government to agree to a badly-needed humanitarian truce.

Hamza al-Huthi, the head of the rebel delegation and from the Ansarullah group, was addressing reporters when a woman in a headscarf barged in and threw a slipper at him -- a huge insult in the Arab world.

Al-Huthi promptly threw it back.

She was quickly joined by six men who shouted slogans against the rebels and started raining blows at them, screaming "Killers, you are spreading death and disease in South Yemen."

The melee lasted several minutes with bottles hurled before the intruders were hauled out.

The woman's gesture was immediately hailed on social media in Aden, the main port city in South Yemen, with congratulatory tweets.

Once order was restored, al-Huthi said the rebels wanted "a humanitarian truce but it is not wanted by Saudi Arabia and its allies" who have staged aerial bombings on the rebels since March 26.

- 'War benefits Al-Qaeda' -

He said the stalled UN talks in Geneva would continue until at least Friday, adding: "We hope these preliminary talks will end up in some kind of accord ... a transition that will hopefully lead to free, fair and transparent elections."

He accused the Saudis of using "nitrogen bombs and other horrible arms" to "massacre women and children" and said Al-Qaeda in Yemen was "exploiting the situation and using the aggression to extend its influence over the region."

Yaser al-Awadi, another member of the rebel delegation said the "Yemen war has become an economic investment for Britain, France and the United States."

"Their arms factories are working full-time for two months to furnish and supply arms," he said.

"Our women and children are being used as guinea pigs to test new arms," al-Awadi said at the chaotic press conference, the most dramatic event at the peace talks so far.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon launched the high-stakes negotiations on Monday with an appeal for a badly-needed two-week humanitarian truce.

The negotiations, in their fourth day, have been bogged down by the government's insistence that the Iran-backed rebels must withdraw from the vast territory they control, including the capital Sanaa.

It has also protested the size of the rebel delegation which is more than double the pre-agreed number of 10.

Huthi rebels and their allies, troops faithful to ousted president Ali Abdallah Saleh, favour a truce but are refusing to withdraw as demanded by the government in exile, which is backed by Saudi Arabia.

© 2015 AFP

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