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Yemeni parliament in non-binding vote against drone attacks

People gather at the site of a drone strike on the road between Yafe and Radfan districts of the southern Yemeni province of Lahj August 11,
People gather at the site of a drone strike on the road between Yafe and Radfan districts of the southern Yemeni province of Lahj August 11,

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen's parliament on Sunday called for a stop to drone attacks in a symbolic vote that reflected growing public anxiety about Washington's use of the unmanned aircraft to combat al Qaeda in the impoverished country.

Motions passed by the Yemeni parliament are not binding and can be struck down by the president, and are seen as no more than recommendations to the government.

"Members of parliament voted to stop what drones are doing in Yemeni airspace, stressing the importance of preserving innocent civilian lives against any attack and maintaining Yemeni sovereignty," the state news agency SABA said.

The United States has stepped up drone strikes in Yemen as part of a campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), regarded by Washington as the most active wing of the militant network.

Stabilizing the country, which is also struggling with southern separatists and northern rebels, is an international priority due to fears of disorder in a state that flanks top oil producer Saudi Arabia and major shipping lanes.

The United States says its drones program has been successful in eliminating al Qaeda in various countries. Some Yemenis say had it not been for such strikes, AQAP could have seized more territory across Yemen.

Yemeni foreign minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi told Reuters in September that the drone strikes were a "necessary evil" and a "very limited affair" that happens in coordination with the Yemeni government.

However, other Yemenis, and some U.S. politicians, say the strikes and civilian casualties are increasing sympathy for AQAP and resentment against America. AQAP, which has scattered across the country, is now targeting local police and security officials, who have only tenuous control in Yemen.

On Thursday, fifteen people were killed in an air strike while on their way to a wedding in the central al-Bayda province, according to local officials. The government said senior al Qaeda militants had been targeted in the attack, and made no mention of civilian casualties.

The parliament session started with a minute of silence to remember the victims of a December 5 attack by an al Qaeda-affiliated group on a defense ministry compound in Sanaa in which at least 56 people were killed.

(Reporting By Mohammed Ghobari; Writing By Maha El Dahan)

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