US, UK, France Closing Embassies in Yemen

US, UK, France Closing Embassies in YemenUS, UK, France Closing Embassies in Yemen

The United States, Britain and France said Wednesday they were closing their embassies in Yemen following Houthi rebels seizing power there, highlighting the turmoil gripping the country as it marked the fourth anniversary of toppling its longtime autocratic ruler.

The embassy closures came as Houthis, armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and dressed in police uniforms and civilian clothes, patrolled the main boulevards of the capital, Sanaa, some in pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns, AP reported.

Early Wednesday, UK Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood urged British citizens still in Yemen to “leave immediately” as the British Embassy evacuated its staff. This came as the State Department confirmed it closed the US Embassy in Sanaa and evacuated its staff. The French Embassy said it would close Friday.

“The security situation in Yemen has continued to deteriorate over recent days,” Ellwood said. “Regrettably we now judge that our embassy staff and premises are at increased risk.”

Scattered protests could be seen in the capital, with demonstrators denouncing the Houthis for taking power and dissolving parliament. Shops closed early and helicopters also hovered overhead.

Houthis attacked one demonstration, stabbing and beating protesters trying to reach the local United Nations office, witnesses said. The rebels detained a number of people as well, they said.

In Taiz, Yemen’s most populous city and one not held by the rebels, thousands flocked to the streets to protest the group.

Yemen has been in crisis for months, since the Houthi rebels began their offensive in September. Earlier Tuesday, US officials said the embassy closure would not affect counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch, which America views as the world’s most dangerous branch of the terror group.

The UN has been trying to broker talks between the Houthis and others in Yemen since the rebels dissolved parliament after earlier besieging the country’s president, who later resigned while armed militants surrounded his home.