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Protesters block a street with burning tires after the Yemeni Riyal has severely plunged against foreign currencies, in Aden, Yemen September 2, 2018. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman

(reuters_tickers)

By Mohammed Mukhashaf

ADEN (Reuters) - Hundreds of demonstrators protesting against Yemen's deteriorating economic situation and weakening currency blocked major roads and burned tyres in the southern city of Aden on Sunday, with shops and government offices closing.

The Yemeni rial has lost more than half its value against the U.S. dollar since the start of a civil war in 2015 between the internationally recognised government, based in the south and backed by Saudi Arabia, and the Iran-aligned Houthi movement which controls the north including the capital Sanaa.

Soaring prices have put some basic commodities out of reach for many Yemenis, and the central bank has struggled to pay public sector salaries on which many depend as foreign exchange reserves dwindle.

Aden's usually bustling markets were empty on Sunday after the coordinating council of the General Confederation of Southern Workers' Unions called for civil disobedience. Plumes of smoke from burning tyres filled the air, including in the main square where a National Bank of Yemen building is situated.

There were reports of smaller protests in nearby municipalities.

"There is no alternative to change the situation except popular revolution against corruption in all its forms," said one of the protesters, Fadl Ali Abdullah. "The people have lost confidence in everything around them."

The authorities have sought to boost liquidity by printing money, but the rial plunged from 250 to the dollar to 350 after the first batch of newly printed notes was rolled out last year. It was trading at 440 to the dollar by the end of last year and crashed to around 500 in January.

Saudi Arabia, which is leading a military coalition against the Houthis, then deposited $2 billion (£1.54 billion) in Yemen's central bank to shore up the rial, but the currency has since weakened further to around 550 to the dollar.

Presidential adviser Abdel-Malek al-Mekhlafi called on Sunday for "deep reforms in different fields" to halt the country's deterioration.

"Ensuring victory over the coupists, liberating the country and preserving legitimacy to restore the state cannot be done without reforming the legitimate (government) so that its performance can be at the level required for the current phase," he tweeted.

The war, seen as a proxy between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, has created humanitarian and economic crises in the already impoverished country. A cholera epidemic erupted last year, and the United Nations has said that Yemen could face one of the deadliest famines of modern times.

(Additional reporting and writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Jane Merriman)

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Reuters