Yemen

Yemen's Saleh says fighting with rebels has ended

SANAA, July 17 (Reuters) - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Thursday battles with Shi'ite rebels in the north, which have raged on and off since 2004, had ended and that dialogue should replace fighting.

"We announce that the war is over. It actually ended three days ago," Saleh said in a brief speech carried by state television. "Dialogue is the civilised way and is better than bloodshed," Saleh said, without elaborating.

Fighting between the rebels, members of the Shi'ite Muslim Zaydi sect led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, and government forces had flared up after previous attempts to end hostilities in the northern province of Saada, including a 2007 Qatari mediation which was revived this year.

The rebels, known as the Houthis, said earlier this week that a tribal mediation had succeeded in stopping the fighting.

But the Yemen Times said on its website earlier on Thursday that bloody confrontations erupted again in several parts of Saada following two days of relative calm under an agreement to end hostilities.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the conflict and thousands have fled their homes.

Officials say the rebels want to restore a form of clerical rule prevalent in the country until the 1960s. The rebels, who want Zaydi schools and oppose the government's alliance with the United States, say they are defending their villages against government oppression.

Sunni Muslims form a majority of Yemen's 19 million population, while most of the rest are Shi'ite Zaydis.

One of the poorest countries outside Africa, Yemen is also grappling with a violent campaign by al Qaeda militants, dwindling oil and water resources, unemployment, corruption and a growing community of Somali refugees. (Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Inal Ersan)

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