Members of the southern Yemeni diaspora joined together in solidarity with the UAE government over the weekend in London, thanking it for its support for the separatist secessionist movement.
Several hundred people gathered outside the UAE embassy in London on Saturday, in an event organised by the UK office of the Southern Transitional Council (STC). Emirati, South Yemeni, Saudi and British flags could be seen along with banners and placards reading "Thank you UAE" and "STC has the capacity to restore stability and security".
Protesters voiced their gratitude towards UAE Crown Prince, Sheikh Muhammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, addressing him by his kunya, Abu Khaled, and condemned the Islah Party as a "terrorist group".
The solidarity rally comes as the UAE-backed STC has taken control of Yemen's de-facto capital Aden forcing the internationally-backed government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi out of the city.
The Emirates has come under pressure on numerous occasions during the war in Yemen, facing criticism for human rights abuses including torture in secret prisons and claims it is occupying Yemeni territory, namely the Socotra islands.
It's actions in Yemen began as part of the Saudi-led coalition, which this month came under fire for an air strike on a detention centre resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths. The human rights abuses have led to calls for a boycott of the UAE owned Emirates Airlines.
Yasser Salahi, who joined Saturday's rally, told MEMO he had come out to thank the UAE and Saudi Arabia for all they have done in Yemen and dismissed reports of anti-UAE sentiments in the country as "false". The "majority of Yemenis want them to stay," he stressed.
The UAE is providing financial aid – medicine and supporting the civil service in the south -"as the [Yemeni] government hasn't paid them", Salahi explained.
Members of the southern Yemeni community and UK representatives of the STC addressed attendees.
They read messages of support to the UAE Ambassador to the UK, Mansoor Abulhoul expressing appreciation for the Emirate's support in clearing the south from "extreme elements and the corrupt government" and countering the Houthi threat, whilst "looking forward to the next phase of stability and security with the help of the UAE."
Speaking to MEMO leader of Southern Democratic Assembly (TAJ) and member of STC's National Assembly, Jalal Obadi, argued that contrary to popular belief, the Arab Spring did not start in Tunisia, but in Yemen in 2007 when a south Yemen separatist movement was formed with the aim of re-establishing the state of South Yemen.
When asked about the tension between Saudi Arabia and the UAE over the complexities of the south, especially with STC taking control of Aden, Obadi said they were "working under the same umbrella". They have no "issues between themselves" as they were working towards a common goal, he explained.
UK spokesperson for the STC, Saleh Al-Noud, added: "Overall we have come a long way for what we aim for… some people might think it is to break away…but in reality, it's just towards having some form of stability and autonomy away from the so-called legitimate government."
As the protest continued it took an even more jubilant turn, Gulf music blared from loud speakers and some of the crowd took part in traditional folk dance.