'Stop arming Saudi Arabia!' Anti-war activists protest UK-backed Yemen airstrikes
Hundreds of anti-war activists are expected to descend upon Saudi Arabia’s embassy on Charles Street, West London, on Saturday to highlight the humanitarian impact of Saudi-led bombing in Yemen.
The protest has been organized by the Stop the War coalition, and is due to commence at 1pm.
The Saudi-led coalition conducting airstrikes in Yemen includes air forces from Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar. The military campaign was launched March 19.
Although Britain is not directly taking part, Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond has pledged Britain’s diplomatic, logistical and technical support for the bombing campaign.
Stop the War, which has campaigned for a shift in Britain’s foreign policies since 2001, says the airstrikes will further destabilize the Middle East and exacerbate conflict in the region.
The anti-war group accuses the Saudi regime of playing a leading role in almost every “anti-democratic development in the Middle East.”
It says the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen reflects the determination of Saudi Arabia and Western powers to decimate the “democratic potential of the Arab Spring in one country after another.”
The campaign group is calling upon the British government to terminate its alliance with the Saudi government and stop supplying it with arms.
Yemen’s escalating crisis
Yemen’s conflict has descended into all-out war between several key groups in recent months, pushing the nation to the precipice. As opposing forces fight for control of the war-torn state, tensions continue to rise.
Analysts suggest the power struggle holds serious implications for the Middle East and the security of the West. The conflict in Yemen has been described by critics as a proxy war between majority Shia Iran and a number of majority Sunni Arab nations.
Saudi-led airstrikes are targeting Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who are fighting against forces loyal to Saudi-backed Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
The Houthi rebels have annexed large swathes of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa. The capture of this strategic city has sparked concern Al-Qaeda may take advantage of a power vacuum in the region.
As hostilities escalate, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen has worsened dramatically, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The UN health agency estimates at least 643 have died in the conflict since March 19, while some 2,226 have been injured.
Chris Nineham of Stop the War said Britain's support of the Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen is "much more strategic than humanitarian."
"The country's complex problems have been obvious for a long time, and there has been no serious effort at humanitarian relief," he said.
"As the Hadi government was elected unopposed, the intervention cannot successfully be presented as a defence of democracy. The real issue here is about the influence of the key western ally Saudi Arabia throughout the region."
Nineham believes the conflict in Yemen will be brought to a close by a diplomatic solution.
"The crucial thing to understand is that outside intervention is not improving the situation. The war has been worsened by the Western backed intervention of Saudi Arabia," he said.
Arming Saudi Arabia
Concerns are mounting in Britain over the UK’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia as fighting in Yemen continues to intensify.
Saudi Arabia is Britain’s most prolific arms buyer, according to UK charity Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). Since coming to power in 2010, the Conservative-led UK government has licensed more than £3.8 billion worth of military wares to the Gulf regime.
Among the arms Britain sells to Saudi Arabia are Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft. The UK also maintains the Saudi regime’s F-15 combat aircraft and Tornado fleet.
According to a report published by the Al Arabiya News network on March 27, the Saudi government is using UK-made Typhoons and UK-maintained Tornados to conduct airstrikes in Yemen. On March 26, aviation magazine Airheads Fly also said the Gulf state used F-15s and Typhoons to bomb Yemen.
Speaking to RT on Thursday, Chris Nineham of Stop the War said it's likely UK-produced arms are being deployed in Yemen "despite the British government's denials."
"Britain supplies large amounts of weapons to Saudi Arabia, and Amnesty International previously concluded it was “extremely likely” that UK-supplied Tornado fighter-bombers were used in a Saudi-led military offensive against Yemen in 2009," he said.
"So there is a strong likelihood that British sourced munitions are being used in Yemen."
Speaking to RT on Thursday, Andrew Smith of CAAT said “there is every reason to believe UK fighter jets have been involved in the bombing.”
“The government needs to announce a full embargo on all arms sales to Saudi Arabia and investigate whether or not any UK weapons have been used,” he added.
Smith said Britain’s support for Saudi Arabia has remained steadfast in the face of “terrible human rights abuses” committed by the Saudi regime. He said this alliance is borne of sequential UK governments’ willingness to reap profit from arms sales.
Anti-war campaigners due to attend Saturday’s protest say the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen will compound existing tensions and violence in the crisis-ridden state. They warn the conflict can only be solved by the people of Yemen.