Aden: Yemen's government accused southern separatists of an attempted coup on Sunday after they took over its headquarters amid fierce clashes in the city of Aden.
The fighting, which killed at least 15 people, threw war-torn Yemen into further chaos and threatened to undermine president Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who ordered his forces to stand down.
Security sources and residents said clashes appeared to have spread to most of the city, with reports of running gun battles.
The government urged the Saudi-led military coalition, which has been supporting Hadi against Iran-backed Huthi rebels in control of much of the north, to intervene.
The southern separatists — who want the return of an independent state that ended with Yemen's unification in 1990 — backed Hadi's government against the Huthis but tensions between the two sides had been on the rise.
"A coup is ongoing here in Aden against legitimacy and the country's unity," Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher said in a statement.
Shortly afterwards, it was reported loyalist commanders had received orders from the president to put down their weapons.
"After talks with the Arab coalition... you must order all military units to cease fire immediately," a government statement said.
On Sunday afternoon, coalition planes were seen flying over the city.
Security sources told AFP that pro-separatist units trained and backed by the United Arab Emirates had taken over the government headquarters in Aden after clashes.
The 15 people killed included three civilians, hospital sources said. Dozens more were wounded.
Saudi and Emirati troops present in Aden did not intervene in the clashes, security sources said.
The fighting erupted after separatist protestors were prevented from entering the city for a rally to demand the government's ouster in Aden, established as its interim base after the Iran-backed Huthis seized control of the capital Sanaa in 2014.
Schools, airport closed
The coalition, which launched its intervention against the rebels in March 2015, had urged restraint ahead of the planned protest.
It called on all sides to "adhere to the language of calm dialogue", according to a statement cited late Saturday by Saudi state news agency SPA.
Universities, schools and the only international airport in the city had all been closed, according to witnesses.
The UN children's agency UNICEF said on Twitter it was "very concerned about the situation in Aden."
Dagher said that events in Aden were headed towards "total military confrontation" and urged members of the coalition, in particular, the United Arab Emirates, to take action.
The premier also warned that separating south Yemen from the rest of the country would benefit Iran and the Huthis.
"Iran is trying to consolidate its presence in Yemen through the Huthis and by splitting Yemen, we are giving them one-third of the land and three-quarters of the population," Dagher said.
Sunday's rally was called by the Southern Transitional Council, an autonomous body aimed at overseeing self-governance among southern provinces.
The 26-member council, which is not recognised by Hadi's government, includes the governors of five southern provinces and two cabinet ministers.
Former Aden governor Aidarous al-Zoubeidi formed the council in May after Hadi fired him the previous month.
The council had asked Hadi to make changes in the government and gave him one week to do so — a deadline that expired on Sunday.
Long campaign for secession
It had warned that if Hadi did not accept the demand, its supporters would begin a protest campaign to oust Dagher's government.
The separatists have long campaigned for the secession of southern Yemen.
South Yemen was an independent state — with former British colony Aden as its capital — from its formation in 1967 until 1990, when it was unified with North Yemen under northern leader Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Four years later, it launched a separatist rebellion that culminated in its occupation by northern forces.
The Huthis, a northern Shiite minority, seized Sanaa in September 2014 with the help of Saleh and army units loyal to him.
In March 2015, the rebels advanced on Aden, where Hadi took refuge after escaping house arrest in the capital.
But the Saudi-led coalition helped pro-Hadi forces push the rebels out of Aden in July that year, as well as from four other provinces.
Hadi loyalists have been boosted by the Popular Resistance alliance of southern separatists and tribesmen who took up arms after the rebels advanced on their regions.
Years of UN-backed peace efforts have failed to resolve Yemen's conflict, which has killed more than 9,200 people and devastated a country already among the poorest in the region.
The Huthis have increasingly consolidated their grip on Sanaa and the north, especially since rebel gunmen killed Saleh in December after their alliance collapsed.
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Updated Date: Jan 28, 2018 20:16:24 IST