Mass pro-independence demonstration in South Yemen as Shia rebels progress across Yemen's north

Former Southern army officials issue ultimatum to Yemeni goverment employees, military to leave South Yemen before November 30th · Group aims at taking control over territory, declare independence shortly after · Southern Movement suffers from internal divisions · Houthi Shia fighters controls or has presence in much of Yemen's north and west

South Yemen finds itself immersed into a complex political and military scenario, the most recent chapter of which was Tuesday's massive pro-independence demonstration in Aden. Secessionists demonstrated while the Houthi rebel Shia militia was progressing across much of Yemen's north and west. The announcement that a pro-independence military council had been established added yet further complexity to the situation.

Hundreds of thousands marched in Aden on Tuesday calling for independence of South Yemen. Bearing in mind that South Yemen has a population of some 4 to 5 million, the demonstration can be considered as a massive one.

Pro-independence demonstrations have been common in Aden in recent years. South Yemen was an independent state from 1967 to 1990, when the country merged with North Yemen. In 1994, amid the perception that South Yemen was being marginalized by the central Yemeni authorities, Southern leaders declared independence. The Yemeni army immediately crushed the revolt.

During the demonstration this week, some Southern Movement leaders issued a statement calling on Yemeni government employees and military to leave South Yemen before November 30th. They also demanded a halt to all exports -including oil and gas- from South Yemen to North Yemen.

A group of former South Yemen officials and soldiers led by Tammah Mohamed Saleh last month announced the establishment of the Military Council of the South. The council says it wants to launch a campaign of civil disobedience in South Yemen with the aim of taking control of the country and ultimately declare independence.

Several Yemeni and Middle Eastern media admit the strength of the pro-independence feelings, but they also warn that the Southerrn Movement suffers from deep internal divisions. Some of its factions want secession, while others demand a loose federation between South Yemen and North Yemen. Southern Movement factions and other groups that are loosely attached to it are now holding meetings in order to agree on a common leadership.

Central Yemeni state suffering serious trouble

While secessionists try to ready themselves for an eventual declaration of independence, the Yemeni central state is facing enourmous difficulties. The northern-based Houthi rebels, who have now been controlling for months Saada and Amran provinces, on Tuesday seized partial control over the port city of Al-Hudaydah, on the Red Sea coast. The Houthi fighters yesterday reached the towns of Ibb and Taiz, 150 km south of Yemen capital Sana'a, which has also been occupied by the Houthi rebels since September. The fall of Sana'a to the Shia rebels led to the resignation of Yemeni Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa, who has been replaced by Khaled Bahah.

The new Prime Minister needs to implement a power-sharing deal signed by Yemen President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, the Houthis, and a group from South Yemen shortly after the Shia militia gained control over Sana'a. Despite the agreement, and according to Saudi Al Arabiya television, Houthi rebels keep de facto control over the country's capital.

The Houthis have now to deal with attacks from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Al Qaeda has vowed to defend Sunnis -the majority of Yemen's population- from the perceived threat posed by the Houthis.

(Imatge: pro-independence demonstration in Aden on Tuesday / picture by Saeed Alyonsi.)