Thousands of supporters of Yemen's ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh and Shia rebels took to the streets Friday to protest threatened UN sanctions against the ousted strongman and insurgent chiefs.
Saleh, who stepped down in early 2012 after a year of Arab Spring-inspired protests, is seen as the main backer of Huthi rebels who have overrun the capital and several other areas since September.
Protesters, many brandishing machineguns, gathered in Tahrir Square in the capital Sanaa, chanting slogans hailing Saleh and condemning Washington for proposing the sanctions, an AFP correspondent reported.
"The people want Ali Abdullah Saleh," they chanted, warning President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi: "We shall not listen to America!"
Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) party called the protests, warning that any sanctions would exacerbate the crisis in Yemen, which has been gripped by years of instability.
The UN Security Council was set to endorse the US-drafted proposal to slap a visa ban and assets freeze on Saleh and two of his allies, Shia Huthi rebel commanders Abd al-Khaliq al-Huthi and Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim, diplomats in New York said on Tuesday.
The GPC has accused the US embassy in Sanaa of giving an ultimatum to Saleh to leave by Friday or face sanctions -- a claim that Washington has denied.
Saleh served as Yemen's first president after unification in 1990 but quit under a regional peace plan.
The Huthi rebels fought Saleh while he was in power but the former foes now appear to be allies.
Protesters carried portraits of Saleh along with pictures of rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi.
Abd al-Khaliq al-Huthi is the younger brother of the rebel chief and was among the commanders who oversaw the storming of Sanaa in September.
Hakim is Abdulmalik al-Huthi's military second-in-command.
The 15 members of the Security Council have until Friday evening to raise objections before the proposal returns to the sanctions committee for action.
The top UN body in August called on the Huthi rebels to end their armed uprising against President Hadi and warned of sanctions against those who threaten the stability of Yemen, which is a key US ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda.
The turmoil has raised fears that the impoverished country, which neighbours oil-flush Saudi Arabia and lies on the key shipping route from the Suez Canal to the Gulf, may become a failed state.