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Mideast Yemen Source: AP/Press Association Images

Updated 9.30pm, 23 March

THE CHAOS IN Yemen shows no signs of abating.

Tensions in the US-allied country erupted in January when rebels seized power, forcing the government to resign.

More recently, the world was shocked by a suicide bombing that killed 143 people, with the Islamic State group claiming responsibility.

As the struggle for power continues, we’ve taken a look at everything you need to know…

Where is Yemen?

The Republic of Yemen is situated in the Arabian Peninsula, south of Saudi Arabia and west of Oman. The coastal country meets the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.

It has a population of about 26 million people.


Is it a rich nation?

Yemen is classed as a developing country. Its oil stock is declining, putting its economy and finances in a precarious position.

It is also a relatively new nation. The north and south united in 1990, but a short civil war broke out later in the summer of 1994.

These factors have made it the poorest country in the region.

Was it involved in the Arab Spring?


Mideast Yemen Road to Crisis Yemeni riot police charge towards anti-government demonstrators in February 2011. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Demonstrations against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 22-year rule began in January 2011.

Up to 2,000 people died in the subsequent unrest as Saleh’s supporters and security forces cracked down on the protests.

After months of political wrangling and a bombing that left Saleh seeking medical treatment abroad, power was handed over to his deputy, Abed Mansour Hadi who formed a unity government.

What’s happening now?

It involves the Houthi rebels, who have been knocking about in Yemen for more than a decade, fighting the government occasionally. Their main grievances include the lack of Shia representation in the Sunni-dominated government, and cuts to fuel subsidies. Overthrowing the government wasn’t always on the agenda.

 The Huthis’ power, influence and control has been on the up since 2012 –  but let’s turn the clock back to Autumn.

In August, they forced – through two weeks of sustained anti-government protests – President Hadi to sack his cabinet and perform a u-turn on fuel price rises.

After this, the Houthi militia stormed the capital Sanaa, prompting the resignation of the country’s prime minister. They gained control of the government headquarters, and eight other provinces soon afterwards.

Mideast Yemen Smokes rises from near the Yemeni Government TV building, background, during clashes between Sunni militiamen and Hawthi Shiite rebels in Sanaa. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Skirmishes continued throughout autumn and into the winter, and the Houthi rebels continued to strengthen their grip on the capital after taking over radio and TV stations, setting up checkpoints, as well as more government buildings.

In November, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on the country’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and two allied rebel commanders for threatening peace in the impoverished Arab country.

A US request to impose a visa ban and assets freeze on the deposed leader and the two commanders from the Shiite Huthi movement were put into force.

The struggle for power came to a head in January.

Mideast Yemen Houthi Shiite Yemenis wearing army uniforms stand guard outside the Republican Palace in Sanaa. Source: AP/Press Association Images

The Houthis rejected plans for a new constitution and kidnapped the president’s chief of staff Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak.

In response, Hadi ordered the army to take over the capital. This move led to, as would be expected, more fighting.

The presidential palace was eventually seized by the Houthis and a council installed to run the country, a move seen as a coup. Hadi resigned, along with his ministers.

Is Hadi a ‘good’ president?

Hadi has been in charge for three years, since he won 99.8% of votes in an uncontested poll. They haven’t exactly been easy ones for the 69 year old.

A career soldier turned politician, he was seen as a consensus figure as he had no popular or tribal base. However, he had been vice president since 1994 and secretary general of the ruling General People’s Congress party.

On taking over the leadership in June 2011, he pledged to “preserve the country’s unity, independence and territorial integrity”.

Mideast Yemen Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi Source: AP/Press Association Images

However, he was severely undermined in September with the unopposed takeover of Sanaa by Huthis. The chronic instability that has rocked the country has allowed the rebels to advance their power base.

He has also suffered by not being able to get a grip on Al-Qaeda. Now, despite his claims that he is the legitimate leader, he is seen as weak.

Despite all this, he still has the unanimous support of the UN Security Council, who met at the weekend to discuss the worsening situation in the country.

The word ‘civil war’ is being thrown around now, what has happened since January?

It looks like it’s slipping that way.

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The Houthis still control Sanaa, with some ministers remaining under house arrest. Several foreign embassies have withdrawn from the city over security concerns.

The Huthis have pushed their advance south and west into mainly Sunni areas, where they have met with fierce resistance from tribesmen and Al-Qaeda.

Hadi has retracted his resignation and fled to Aden, Yemen’s second largest city, calling for others to join him to set up a new government.

Mideast Yemen Members of a militia group loyal to Hadi near a major intersection near Aden. Source: AP/Press Association Images

The city, which was the capital of an independent south Yemen before its union with the north in 1990, is (largely) in the hands of troops and militia loyal to the president.

In the past few days, the Houthis made several massive gains, including an airport and a nearby military base in Taez, Yemen’s third-largest city which is just 180 kilometres north of Aden and seen as a strategic entry point to Hadi’s southern refuge.

“(Recent events) seem to be leading Yemen to the edge of a civil war,” UN envoy Jamal Benomar said, warning of a protracted crisis like “a Libya-Syria combined scenario.”

And is Islamic State now involved?

Quite possibly. They have claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing last week that killed some 140 people.

By claiming its first attack in Yemen, IS is seeking to exploit the chaos gripping the country and siphon support from the world’s most fearsome Al-Qaeda branch (known as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP), analysts say.

As if the situation wasn’t complicated enough, AQAP have been carrying out their own rebellion in the south, and hold large swates of tribal land. This is the group that the US military targets with drone strikes in the region.

What about the ordinary people in Yemen?

Al Jazeera says that anti-Houthi sentiment is on the rise. That’s a good thing for Al Qaeda though, not Hadi.

The news outlet also points out that half of the country live below the poverty line after years of war, instability and a declining economy.

Pro-Hadi protests have been held on the streets of several Yemeni cities since the Huthis’ takeover of Sanaa.

Anti-Huthi protests have erupted in several cities as well, something that the rebels aren’t too fond of. They have been dispersed with live ammunition on several occasions.

So what now?

A deepening political impasse and an increasingly explicit territorial division along sectarian lines, with rising violence between the Huthi and Sunni tribes and Al-Qaeda, are not issues that can be resolved fast.

The situation has become so heated that the United States has pulled all of its troops from the region.

On top of this, the conflict is becoming something of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Houthi appear to be backed by Iran, also Shia. Riyadh won’t be too pleased with having an Iran-friendly foe right on their border.

It all hinges on the reaction of the international community, and how much more land the rebels can gain.

With reporting by Sinead O’Carroll, Nicky Ryan, and AFP. Originally published 8.30pm, 20 January 2015

Read: American troops evacuated from Yemen as civil war approaches >

More: Suicide bombings that killed 142 ‘just the tip of the iceberg’ ISIS warns >

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