FRI 18 - 1 - 2019
Sep 4, 2018
The Daily Star
Protests over Yemen’s ailing economy move south
ADEN: Demonstrations spread to new parts of southern Yemen Monday even as they eased slightly in the port city of Aden following government orders aimed at strengthening the local currency and reversing economic decline. Protesters burned tires in order to cut roads in Aden’s Sheikh Othman district, and many shops in other precincts remained closed after shuttering a day earlier, residents and witnesses said.
Dozens of demonstrators also marched, cut roads and closed markets in the provinces of Hadramawt, Lahej and Abyan, with some chanting “Pay our salaries in dollars like you take yours in dollars,” a reference to officials living abroad amid a domestic currency crisis.
Organizers of the demonstrations have called for civil disobedience until the government instates measures to aid millions of Yemenis struggling to survive.
The Yemeni rial has lost more than half its value against the U.S. dollar since the start of a civil war in 2015 between the government of President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi, based in the south and backed by Saudi Arabia, and the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that controls the north including the capital, Sanaa.
Soaring prices have put some basic commodities out of reach for many Yemenis and the central bank has struggled to pay public-sector salaries on which many depend as foreign exchange reserves dwindle.
The rial plunged to about 500 to the dollar in January from 250 the year before. Monday, bankers and currency traders in Aden said it had dropped further, reaching 620.
Late Sunday Hadi’s government ordered a package of measures including a temporary halt on imports of luxury goods like automobiles and a 30 percent salary increase for public-sector employees, including pensioners and contractors. It was not immediately clear when the raise would come into effect.
The decision came hours after hundreds of people took to the streets of Aden, the southern province that now serves as the government’s de facto capital, burning tyres and blocking main roads to demand government aid.
One protester was killed after being shot by police in the Daleh district in the south.
Mohammed Qassim al-Nouman, head of the nonprofit Yemen Center for Human Rights, said Monday that Hadi’s directives failed to address the reasons for economic deterioration, which he ascribed to nepotism in official appointments and runaway state spending.
“They were only decisions designed to escape from treating the real [problems], notably the government’s failure to fulfill the duties entrusted to it and its continued absence outside the country,” he said.
Yemen is one of the poorest Arab countries and the war has pushed it towards humanitarian collapse as hunger and disease spread.
In January, Saudi Arabia – Hadi’s main ally – announced a $2 billion bailout to help bolster the central bank. The riyal rose briefly that month but has since plummeted by 36 percent.
In 2016, more than one million civil servants lost their jobs as Hadi transferred the official central bank from Sanaa to Aden.
The rebels operate their own central bank from the capital, which they have controlled since 2014.
The Yemeni war has triggered what the U.N. calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with more than three-quarters of the population in need of humanitarian aid and 8.4 million at risk of famine.
The United Nations has convened talks in Geneva Thursday, the first effort to negotiate the conflict in more than two years.
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