The United States, Britain and France said Wednesday they were closing their embassies in Yemen amid the turmoil in the wake of Shia rebels taking over the country.
The closures — almost four years to the date since the start of an Arab Spring uprising that ousted Yemen’s longtime autocratic ruler — were an ominous sign for the faltering UN-brokered negotiations between the Houthi rebels and their political rivals.
Yemen has been in crisis for months, with the Iran-linked Houthis besieging the capital, Sanaa, and then taking control.
In January, the rebels put US-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and all his cabinet ministers under house arrest, leading to their resignations. Subsequently, the Houthis — who are followers of the Shiite Zaydi sect in the Sunni-majority Yemen — dissolved parliament and declared they were taking over the government.
The US state department announced it suspended operations at its embassy in Sanaa and relocated diplomatic personnel “due to the ongoing political instability and the uncertain security situation.” About 30 vehicles used by the US embassy staff have been seized by the militia.
Britain’s minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood urged British citizens still in Yemen to “leave immediately” as his country’s embassy evacuated its staff. “The security situation in Yemen has continued to deteriorate over recent days,” Ellwood said.
The French Embassy said it would close on Friday. Germany urged its citizens to leave Yemen, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said Wednesday.
As western nations pulled out their people, thousands of Yemenis in the central city of Taiz and the capital Sanaa held large protests against the Shia militia.