SANAA, March 27 – Tens of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of the capital Sanaa on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the war between a coalition led by Saudi Arabia against Iran-allied fighters who had overthrown the government.
More than 6,200 people have been killed since the coalition joined the war to try to stop the Houthis from taking control of Yemen the country and to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power.
Hadi had been ousted after Houthi forces took over the capital Sanaa in Septemer 2014. Saudi-led foreign forces intervened on the side of fighters loyal to Hadi six months later.
The demonstration, one of the biggest in Yemen since mass protests in 2011 forced President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down, took place ahead of a ceasefire and U.N.-sponsored peace talks next month.
Saleh, an ally of the Houthis, made a rare appearance at the demonstration, his first since the war began, offering an olive branch to the Saudi-led coalition.
“We extend a hand of peace, the peace of the brave, for the direct talks with the Saudi regime without a return to the (U.N.) Security Council, which is incapable of resolving anything,” Saleh told flag-waving supporters who also held up large posters of the former president.
The United Nations says the war has displaced some 2.3 million people and precipitated a humanitarian disaster across large parts of the Arab world’s poorest country.
“We came out today to tell the world, that the Yemeni people remain steadfast, that we have endured a whole year despite the siege and the hunger and the airstrikes and the planes,” said one participant, named Kamel Al Khodani.
The United Nations envoy announced this week that the warring parties had agreed to a cessation of hostilities starting at midnight on April 10 followed by peace talks in Kuwait from April 18 as part of a fresh push to end the crisis following two rounds of failed talks last year.
Later on Saturday, Houthi supporters also held a separate protest to mark the anniversary.
“Today, all Yemenis, from all different sects, and regardless of their political affiliations, came out today in the masses to show the world that the Yemeni people can never be shaken nor defeated,” said Houthi leader Ibrahim al Ubaidi.
The leader of Yemen’s Houthi rebel movement said on Friday he wanted efforts to end a year-long war to succeed but his group was ready to confront its enemies if violence persisted.
“We hope that efforts to end the aggression will be successful, it is in the interest, and a demand, of our people” Abdel-Malek Al Houthi said in a televised speech.
“If those efforts do not succeed, we are ready to make sacrifices…it is important to confront aggression if it continues.”
The coalition is trying to prevent the Houthis and forces loyal to Saleh from taking full control of Yemen. Despite a year of conflict, the Houthis maintain control of the capital Sanaa, while Hadi loyalists are based in the southern port of Aden.