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Yemen rebels disperse protests demanding slain leader’s body

Houthi Shiite rebels walk amid the rubble of the Republican Palace that was destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes, in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (Hani Mohammed/AP)

SANAA, Yemen — Yemeni rebel forces on Wednesday dispersed a protest staged by dozens of women in the capital, Sanaa, demanding the body of slain former President Ali Abdullah Saleh so they could hold a funeral before his burial.

The protest took place outside a rebel-run hospital where the body has been kept since he was killed on Monday by his onetime allies, the Iran-backed Shiite rebels known as Houthis.

Witnesses said the protest lasted less than an hour before rebel forces violently dispersed it with batons. They spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.

A video circulating on social media showed fully-veiled women chanting "The people want the martyr's body." Another showed the protest being dispersed, with gunfire heard in the background.

Saleh's forces helped the Houthis to overrun Sanaa in 2014, but the alliance has unraveled in recent days as the two sides have clashed in the capital.

The fighting was triggered by power struggles within the rebel camp, which has been at war since March 2015 with a Saudi-led coalition backing the internationally recognized government.

Doctors Without Borders, known by the French acronym MSF, said Wednesday the week-long clashes paralyzed Sanaa and left many wounded without "safe access to medical assistance."

Saleh, who ruled Yemen for more than three decades, allied with Houthis after an Arab Spring uprising forced him to resign in 2012. He was killed by the rebels on Monday, leaving his followers in disarray.

Saleh's son, Ahmed, has reportedly been under house arrest in the United Arab Emirates, a key member of the coalition. He was seen in photos shared Wednesday on the official Twitter account of Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, while receiving the crown prince's condolences at his residence. The coalition threw its support behind Saleh when he turned on the rebels, and may now back his son.

Yemen's stalemated war has killed over 10,000 civilians and displaced 3 million.

MSF said that health services in other areas across the country have been attacked over the course of the conflict. The coalition had imposed a blockade, limiting humanitarian access.

The group urged the coalition to "immediately" lift the blockade saying it has had a "devastating knock-on effect on the medical mission in Yemen."

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