SANAA (Reuters) - Thousands of Yemenis packed a square in the capital Sanaa on Sunday on the second anniversary of a war that has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people and pushed the impoverished country to the brink of famine.
It was the biggest gathering since a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states entered the conflict in 2015 to try to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power after he was ousted from Sanaa by the Iran-aligned Houthis.
Witnesses said that a crowd estimated at more than 100,000 people comprising supporters of the Houthis Ansarullah group and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party pressed into Sabeen Square in central Sanaa.
Many waved the red, white and black national colors and denounced Saudi Arabia and the United States they blame for the war. Some displayed placards that read: “Steadfast” and “End Siege on Yemen”.
“This is a message to the world to tell everyone that despite two years of war, the Yemeni people are still victorious, still alive and still love peace,” said Essam al-Abed, a GPC leader.
Saleh al-Samad, chairman of a governing ruling council that comprised members of the Iran-aligned Houthis and Saleh’s GPC, struck a defiant note when he addressed the crowds.
“The battle is still fierce and the war will not end without a victory for the truth and justice,” Samad said to loud cheers.
The former president, who had rarely been seen in public since he was forced to step down following months of protests in 2011 against his 30 years in office, made a brief appearance to cheers from his supporters as the crowd began to disperse.
The Saudi-led coalition has launched a series of air strikes since the war began but the Houthis remain entrenched in most of northern Yemen, including the capital Sanaa.
The United Nations human rights office said last week that the war has killed at least 4,773 civilians and injured more than 8,000.
Several rounds of United Nations mediated peace talks in Switzerland and in Kuwait have failed to produce an agreement.
The Houthis and the GPC are demanding an agreement on a new administration comprising all parties to run the country until new elections, while Hadi supporters say that the Houthis must hand over their weapons and quit the cities they have seized since 2014.