Yemen urges rebels to surrender as death toll rises
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh called on Saturday on an anti-US rebel cleric to surrender and end nearly two weeks of fighting in which 118 rebels and government forces have been killed.
Saleh said security forces had besieged Hussein al-Houthi and his supporters in the mountainous north of the country after he refused to be taken into custody and stand trial for "harming Yemen's stability and interests".
"Even now blood is being shed ... We tell Houthi to surrender and he will have a fair trial," Saleh said, speaking to Muslim scholars. His comments were carried on the official news agency, Saba.
Interior Minister Rshad al-Alimi said earlier that 86 of Houthi's supporters and 32 government forces had been killed since military action against the group began on June 20 in Saada province, 240 km (150 miles) north of the capital Sanaa.
He said 331 members of Houthi's group had been arrested, most of them before the clashes.
Sources close to Houthi have put the death toll from the clashes at about 200.
"Houthi refused all mediation efforts by parliamentarians, Muslim scholars and government officials to surrender peacefully," the minister said, adding that a siege continued.
The government accuses Houthi, a leader of the Zaidi Shi'ite sect, of setting up unlicensed religious centres in Saada and other provinces and forming what it describes as an underground armed group called the "Believing Youth", which has staged violent protests against the United States and Israel.
The president said Houthi's group had attacked mosques and urged Yemenis to arm themselves against possible attacks by the United States. The cleric had also said in his lectures that democracy would bring a Jewish leader to power in Yemen.
Anti-US sentiment is high in the region over the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some clerics in Yemen preach hatred against America and the West.
The poor country of 19 million people is also fighting to root out militants linked to Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group. Houthi has not been accused of links to al Qaeda.