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Jan 26, 6:34 AM EST

US drone kills 3, first strike since Yemen leader resigned


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SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Tribal leaders and security officials in Yemen say the U.S. has carried out its first drone strike in the country since its president resigned.

They say the strike Monday on a vehicle in an area called Hareib, located between the provinces of Marib and Shabwa, killed three suspected al-Qaida militants.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

The strike is the first this year. It also is the first since Shiite Houthi in control of the capital, Sanaa, put embattled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his Cabinet under house arrest.

Hadi, a U.S. ally, later tendered his resignation, though parliament has yet to accept it.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Shiite rebels armed with knives and batons attacked and detained demonstrators Monday protesting against their power grab in Yemen's capital, witnesses said.

The Houthi rebels seized Sanaa in September and days of gunbattles last week ended with them placing the president, prime minister and top Cabinet members under house arrest. After reaching a tentative deal with the Houthis, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the prime minister later quit their posts, though parliament hasn't accepted their resignations.

As protesters converged Monday on Sanaa's Change Square - the epicenter of Yemen's 2011 uprising - Houthi militiamen attacked protesters and journalists and smashed photographers' cameras. It wasn't clear how many people they detained.

A well-known activist, Adel Shamsan, said in an audio testimony circulated by Yemeni activists on Twitter that the Houthis brought "thugs" who chased the protesters and accused them of being "American agents." Shamsan said he was briefly detained before being let go.

The violent dispersal came as Sanaa University students staged a demonstration inside campus, as armed Houthis in military uniforms brandished Kalashnikov assault rifles outside.

The Houthis, who hold many state institutions since sweeping into the capital from their northern stronghold, say they only want an equal share of power. Critics say they want to retain Hadi as president in name only, while keeping an iron grip on power. They also accuse the Houthis of being a proxy of Iran, an allegation the rebels deny.

The power vacuum has raised fears Yemen's al-Qaida's branch, which claimed the recent attack on a French satirical weekly and targeted by U.S. drone strikes, will only grow more powerful as conflict takes on an increasingly sectarian tone. The Shiite Houthis and Sunni terror group are sworn enemies.

On Sunday, U.S. President Barack Obama defended his counterterrorism strategy in Yemen, saying his approach "is not neat and it is not simple, but it is the best option we have."

He ruled out deploying U.S. forces there, saying it "would create its own blowback and cause probably more problems than it would potentially solve."

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