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Thousands march in support of Yemen rebels who oppose Saudi and U.S.-backed government

Thousands march in support of Yemen rebels who oppose Saudi and U.S.-backed government
Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis march in the rebel-held capital, Sana, on Aug. 20, 2016, in support of a new combined governing council announced late last month. (Hani Mohammed / Associated Press)

Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Yemen's capital Saturday in support of a new governing body announced last month by rebels and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh but quickly rejected by the United Nations and the country's internationally recognized government.

The demonstration in rebel-held Sana, which featured people packed together holding Yemeni flags and banners, backed the Higher Political Council supported by Houthi rebels and Saleh, who stepped down in 2012 as a result of the Arab Spring protests.

A coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States intervened in Yemen in 2015 to help fight the Shiite Muslim rebels, who had forced President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi into exile. The coalition is fighting to reinstate Hadi.

The official Saudi Press Agency issued a statement Saturday saying the formation of the council made "the search for a peaceful solution more difficult by unconstitutional and unilateral actions" in Sana.

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"These actions only increase the divisions in Yemen and will not address the political, economic, and security problems that are causing such widespread suffering throughout the country," the statement said.

More than 6,500 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the fighting between rebels and the Saudi-led coalition, according to the U.N.

Footage posted by activists on social media showed crowds pouring into Sana's Sabeen square, waving flags and shouting slogans in support of the council.

Hisham Omeisy, an independent analyst based in Sana, said warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition dropped explosives near the rally.

"I honest to God didn't expect such folly. Jets usually do low-altitude flybys, break the sound barrier … but never [drop] bombs when there are big crowds of people and with cameras rolling," Omeisy said in an interview on the instant messaging service WhatsApp. "It took a moment to sink in that the Saudis had actually bombed the area."

There was no immediate comment from the coalition about the purported bombing, and the claim could not be independently verified.

Footage uploaded by Omeisy on social media showed people firing machine guns in what he described as a show of defiance.

Al-Masirah, the Houthis' television channel, said that three people were killed in a coalition airstrike on the area of Al-Nahdayn in Sana, roughly two miles away from Sabeen square.

Bulos is a special correspondent.

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