'March for bread' protesters reach key Yemen port

26.04.2017

Yemeni protesters reached the Red Sea city of Hodeida on Tuesday, ending a week-long march from the capital to demand that the rebel-held port be declared a humanitarian zone.

Some 25 protesters made the 225-kilometre walk, dubbed the "March for bread", to call for unrestricted aid deliveries to Yemen, where Iran-backed Houthi rebels have battled government forces allied with a Saudi-led Arab coalition for two years.

Protesters waved flags emblazoned with loaves of bread and chanted slogans demanding that the port be spared in the war, which the United Nations estimates has killed more than 7,700 people and left millions struggling to find food.

"The Hodeida port has nothing to do with war... Let them fight anywhere, but leave the port alone. The port is for our women, children, our old people," said Ali Mohammed Yahya, who walked for six days from Sanaa to Hodeida.

Hodeida, the main entry point for aid, is currently Houthi-controlled but fears are mounting over a potential coalition military offensive to seize it.

The United Nations last week urged the Saudi-led coalition not to bomb Hodeida, Yemen's fourth most populated city.

Rights group Amnesty International on Tuesday warned a military offensive "would be devastating far beyond Hodeida since the city's port is a crucial access point for lifesaving international aid".

Seven humanitarian organisations warned of the "catastrophic" impact of any attack on Hodeida, describing it as a "major lifeline for a country on the verge of starvation".

"Such an attack risks tipping a country starved by two years of war into near certain famine, risking the lives of millions," said a joint statement by the groups including Action Against Hunger, Medecins du Monde, Norwegian Refugee Council, Saferworld, Save the Children, Tearfund and War Child.

A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition has denied there are plans for an offensive against Hodeida.

The conflict in Yemen pits the Houthis, allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, against government forces loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

The Saudi-led coalition launched an offensive early this year to help Hadi's forces close in on Yemen's entire Red Sea coast, including Hodeida.

The UN has appealed for $2.1 billion in international assistance this year for Yemen, one of four countries facing famine in 2017.    (AFP)

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