Amid mass demonstrations in the Middle East, around 3,000 people took to the streets across southern Yemen last week in a "Friday of Rage", demanding secession from the north, but heavily deployed security forces quickly stamped out protests.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key U.S. ally against al Qaeda, has ruled Yemen for three decades.
The south was independent from 1967 until 1990 when it united with the north. It launched an abortive secession bid in 1994, crushed by Saleh’s forces, and is still home to an active secessionist movement.
Many in the south, which holds most of Yemen's oil installations, complain that northerners usurp their resources while denying them their identity and political rights.
Meanwhile, Saleh continues to face popular protests from other parts of the country too. He has promised to quit in 2013, and not appoint his son, and to reform parliamentary election laws.
But having in the past retracted promises to step down, Saleh, a canny politician, has a credibility problem.
"Yemenis want real reform, while the president's statements have consisted of hot air. He has not yet grasped the lessons of Egypt and Tunisia," opposition lawmaker Abdulmoez Dabwan told Reuters.
"It has become totally unacceptable. The army is staffed with his relatives. Sovereign resources, especially oil and gas, are in his hands or his proteges."
See Reuters' analysis here.