By Mohammed Ghobari
SANAA (Reuters) - The Yemeni government accused the country's opposition party of allying with armed elements fighting the state in the north and south, reducing prospects for national dialogue in a fractious country.
Separately, the government put 18 southern separatists on trial on Sunday on charges of incitement and threatening national unity, a move that could further increase tensions a day after four others were sentenced to jail terms of 10 years.
"Those who call themselves the opposition ... have entered into suspicious alliances with groups outside of the system, the law and the constitution," Yemeni Prime Minister Ali Megawar told a pro-government rally on Saturday.
"Your cheers are a condemnation of those who take up arms in the southern provinces," he told the protesters, making a similar reference to northern Shi'ite rebels.
Yemen, strategically located next to the world's top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, jumped to the forefront of Western security concerns after a Yemeni-based arm of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for a December attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound passenger plane.
Yemen is trying to quell a northern war with Shi'ite rebels while also facing separatist demands in the south, and is under heavy international pressure to quiet these domestic conflicts in order to focus on quashing al Qaeda.
But a national dialogue, which would also result in agreement on terms of the first parliamentary election since 2003, has been delayed since last year when Sanaa declined to include northern rebels and southern secessionists in the talks.
Yemen's umbrella opposition party has renewed calls for reconciliation in recent street protests that also demanded an easing to a crackdown in the south. But Megawar said the opposition was "not serious about engaging in genuine dialogue."
North and south Yemen formally united in 1990 but many in the south, where most of impoverished Yemen's oil facilities are located, complain northerners exploit the south's resources and discriminate against southern citizens.
Separately in north Yemen, where a February truce with Shi'ite rebels has come under strain in recent weeks, insurgents took control of around 15 schools and sent younger students away to recruit and indoctrinate them, officials said in a statement.
Rebels denied that, saying that they were committed to maintaining the truce and normalizing life in the region, where an on-and-off war that has raged since 2004 has displaced 250,000 people.
Also on Sunday, northern rebels released a Yemeni man kidnapped in the Harf Sufyan district, security officials said in a statement. The man had been beaten and tortured prior to release, the statement said.