Western countries shut embassies in Yemen

PARIS/WASHINGTON - The United States, France and Britain have closed their respective embassies in Sana'a, amid ongoing turmoil in Yemen.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed in a statement early on Wednesday that U.S. embassy staff had been temporarily evacuated from the country and the embassy’s operations suspended. 

“Recent unilateral actions disrupted the political transition process in Yemen, creating the risk that renewed violence would threaten Yemenis and the diplomatic community in Sana’a,” Psaki said.

French embassy officials said in a statement the mission would be closed until further notice from Friday, Feb. 13, and urged French nationals to leave the country as soon as possible.

"Given the political crisis in Yemen and the deterioration of the security situation, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius took the decision to temporarily close our embassy in Sana'a," French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told a press conference in Paris.

- 'Increased risk'

British Minister of the Middle East Tobias Ellwood also announced the UK government had decided to temporally suspend all operations of the British embassy and said the ambassador in Sana'a and staff had left Yemen on Wednesday morning.

Ellwood said that "the security situation in Yemen has continued to deteriorate over recent days. Regrettably we now judge that our embassy staff and premises are at increased risk".

The European Union envoy to Yemen, Bettina Muscheidt, intended to leave the crisis-rocked nation within 48 hours "for security reasons", a source with the EU mission in Yemen said.

The closures came as thousands of Yemenis took to the streets on Wednesday to mark the fourth anniversary of the 2011 uprising that led to the ouster of autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

- 'Terrible noise'

Twitter users had also reported increased activity among U.S. drones and warplanes over the capital.

"#Drone-s as well are securing the evacuation of the #US Embassy staff in Sanaa #Yemen. 3.30am & can't sleep because of the terrible noise," one Twitter user wrote.

Another posted: "American planes have been hovering around Sana'a, Yemen for over an hour to secure and evacuate US Embassy staff."

Other tweets included: "EU mission in Sanaa about to shut down. Turkey Embassy scales down to skeleton staff; considering evacuation" and "Security forces stand guard around the U.S. Embassy building in #Sanaa."

The shutdowns also came two weeks after a confirmed U.S. drone strike ordered by the CIA in Yemen killed three people, one of whom was reported to be a child aged between 12 and 15.

- 'Hundreds killed'

The deaths meant that at least 424 people, including eight children, had been killed in drone attacks since the start of operations in 2002, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported.

The deaths of the youth were widely seen as a reminder that civilians continue to be killed in U.S.-targeted strikes in Yemen, the bureau reported.

Instability has also hit the country after the powerful Houthi Shiite group issued a "constitutional declaration" last week which dissolved parliament and established a 551-member "transitional council".

But the declaration was rejected by most of Yemen's political forces along with some neighboring countries, which described it as a "coup against constitutional legitimacy".

Copyright © 2015 Anadolu Agency