Suicide Blast Kills Dozens of Rebel Supporters in Yemen Capital

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At least 47 people were killed when a powerful suicide bombing ripped through the Yemeni capital on Thursday, plunging the violence-plagued state into further turmoil after weeks of political deadlock.

Dozens more were wounded in the attack in Sanaa's Al-Tahrir square, which targeted a gathering for supporters of Shiite insurgents who overran the capital last month.

A separate suicide attack killed 20 Yemeni soldiers in the country's southeast in a car bombing suspected of having been carried out by Al-Qaida, a military source told AFP.

Yemen has been wracked by political turmoil and sporadic violence since the 2012 toppling of strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, with rebels and militants battling to exploit a power vacuum and seize control of territory.

The bombing in Sanaa came a day after Yemen's new prime minister designate, named as part of a U.N.-brokered peace deal, refused the post amid fierce rebel opposition.

The health ministry said 47 people were killed and 75 others wounded in the blast.

Witnesses said a suicide bomber detonated an explosive belt at a checkpoint at the entrance to the protest gathering, adding that steel balls were seen strewn at the scene of the blast.

"He came to the security (checkpoint) and blew himself up while being checked," witness Abdulsalam Amer told AFP, describing "bodies lying on the ground" after the attack.

An AFP photographer saw the lifeless bodies of four children among the victims, while footage aired by rebel-linked Al-Masirah television showed several corpses lying in pools of blood in the street.

Medics at the nearby Police Hospital issued an urgent plea for more doctors to deal with the number of casualties.

Supporters of the rebels, known as Huthis, gathered after the blast -- the largest in Sanaa since May 2012 -- demanding the fall of beleaguered President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.

In a meeting with foreign ambassadors, Hadi condemned the "coward terrorist bombing", Saba state news agency reported.

"The recent increase in hostilities against innocent civilians only undermines the progress Yemen has made since the 2011 revolution," U.S. Ambassador Matthew Tueller said in a statement condemning the attack.

The Huthis, who are also referred to as Ansarullah, swept into the capital on September 21 after fierce battles with forces allied to the government in Sanaa that left more than 270 dead.

A U.N.-brokered peace accord, which called for a rebel withdrawal from Sanaa and the naming of a neutral premier, was struck the same day.

But the Huthis have dug their heels in, refusing to support Hadi's choice for prime minister and demanding a greater role in decision making as well as political and economic reform.

In addition to the Huthis swooping south from their Saada stronghold in the north, the authorities have also had to deal with southern secessionist aspirations and a bloody campaign by the country's Al-Qaida franchise.

The 20 Yemeni soldiers were killed on Thursday when a suspected Al-Qaida operative detonated his explosives-laden car at an army post on the western outskirts of the southern city of Mukalla, a military official said.

A tank and two army vehicles were destroyed in the blast, the official added.

On Wednesday, suspected Al-Qaida militants launched a wave of dawn attacks on police and the army in another central town, killing 10 policemen.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is considered by the United States to be the global jihadist network's most dangerous branch and its attacks against security installations across the country have challenged Yemen's longtime role as an effective ally in Washington's fight against extremists.

Its proximity to oil-rich Saudi Arabia and key shipping routes in the Gulf of Aden have also raised fears that it could become a failed state similar to Somalia.

Yemen remains in political deadlock after Hadi infuriated the rebels in Sanaa earlier this week by naming his chief of staff, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, as prime minister as part of the U.N.'s reconciliation accord.

Under Huthi pressure, Hadi accepted bin Mubarak's "request to be relieved" of the responsibility of forming a new government, Saba state news agency said.

Bin Mubarak took his decision "in a bid to preserve the national unity and protect the country from divisions," Saba said citing a letter sent by the PM-designate to Hadi.

In a statement on Wednesday the rebels said bin Mubarak's appointment had been "against the will of the nation" and "at the behest of outside forces," an apparent reference to U.S. and Saudi influence.

Rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi had reportedly called late Wednesday for protests in Sanaa against the appointment.

Since storming into Sanaa, the Huthis have been tightening their grip on the city while also looking to expand their control eastwards to oilfields and to the strategic southwestern strait of Bab el-Mandab.

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