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Chaos grips Yemen president's former refuge

AFP , Monday 30 Mar 2015
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Water and power cuts, food shortages and a total lack of security -- Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's former southern stronghold Aden is descending into chaos.

Deadly clashes between local militia fighters and Huthi Shiite rebels, who have seized much of the country, are taking a heavy toll on residents in the port city.

"I haven't opened for five days and eventually I'll go bankrupt," said Abdu Messad who has a small shop in Dar Saad on the outskirts of the city of around 800,000 people.

"Even when the clashes calm down we're too afraid to open because of looters roaming the area," he added.

About 100 people have been killed in several days of clashes in Aden, and Hadi's aides have said he has no immediate plan to return there from his new base in Saudi Arabia.

Aden residents were for months largely isolated from the turmoil that gripped other parts of Yemen after the Huthis swept down from their northern stronghold and overran the capital in September.

But they have gradually been sucked into the conflict, particularly after Hadi fled to the southern city from the rebel-held capital in February.

Since the president left Aden last week and resurfaced in Riyadh, clashes have broken out every night in Dar Saad in the north of Aden on the road to the southwestern city of Taez.

The Huthis have taken over the local government headquarters in Dar Saad while their rivals have blocked off the road with boulders and toppled streetlights.

According to residents, weapons fire is routinely heard once night falls, with the Huthis firing the guns of the two battle tanks they control.

On the opposite side, troops fight back with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

The closure of the road to Taez has severed one of the main supply lines into Aden, creating shortages of essential commodities.

In the city centre, a massive explosion Saturday in a weapons depot targeted by looters left at least 14 dead and damaged a major water tower, cutting off supplies to several neighbourhoods.

In a country awash with weapons even in normal times, armed men of unknown affiliation control the streets.

Inside the safety of homes, meanwhile, power cuts can last six hours a day, or longer.

"Apart from water and electricity cuts, I can't renew my stock of medicines any more," said a doctor from the Crater district, Abdel al-Raquib Yafii.

Just a week ago, the city was buzzing with rumours of infiltration by the Shiite rebels, who had previously been largely confined to northern and central Yemen.

But residents were reassured by the presence of Hadi in his palace, perched on a volcanic mound overlooking the sea.

Then on March 19 a warplane targeted the palace, leading to Hadi's evacuation to a "safe place".

After another strike five days later, the president left for the Saudi capital.

Before long the Huthi presence in Aden was confirmed with their attempt to take over the city's international airport, which was repelled by local militia known as the "popular committees".

Huthi fire damaged the control tower, the VIP lounge and another building.

With many streets deserted, the morale of residents has begun to ebb.

"The future is bleak. The law is not respected," said lawyer Abdullah Gahtane.

"I am seriously considering closing my office and looking for work elsewhere."

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