Yemeni rebels set out demands, surround president’s house

2015-01-21 07:07

Yemeni rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, whose fighters have surrounded President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi’s personal residence and overrun parts of the presidential palace, have warned Hadi to abandon a proposed division of the country into six federal regions.

Al-Houthi denounced the plan, which would divide northern areas dominated by his Shiite movement between three regions, as an international conspiracy aimed at “tearing up the country”.

And in a demand which will raise fears of further, possibly deadlier clashes, the rebel leader called for “immediate intervention to resolve the security situation, especially in Mareb” – an oil-rich eastern province where tribesmen have rejected the entry of his forces.

Al-Houthi’s angry 80-minute speech was broadcast yesterday on his movement’s Al-Maseera television. It came after a day that saw his fighters shell Hadi’s personal residence, according to Information Minister Nadia Sakaff, writing on Twitter.

Yemeni news site al-Masdar Online reported firefights between the rebels and guards at the residence in the south of the capital.

The Houthis – who have been accused by rivals of collaborating with former ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh, ousted in a 2011 uprising – overran most of Sana’a in September, with security forces largely standing aside.

A Houthi official confirmed that Houthi-backed fighters yesterday also took control of the guards’ base in the presidential palace complex, 4km from Hadi’s residence.

Hadi’s whereabouts were unclear, although what al-Houthi termed his “advice” to him to implement a September peace deal made it clear that the rebels were not yet ready to dispense with the increasingly powerless president.

Al-Houthi stressed his commitment to the conclusions of last year’s multi-party National Dialogue Conference, which was supposed to map an agreed future for Yemen after the end of Saleh’s three-decade rule.

But he demanded that the committee overseeing the implementation of those conclusions be “reformed.”

There were signs of a pro-Hadi reaction elsewhere in Yemen, with al-Masdar reporting an anti-Houthi demonstration in the key central city of Taizz.

In the country’s second city, the southern port of Aden, official television broadcast a message from the provincial security committee ordering the province’s borders closed.

The Aden security committee also said it would hold the Houthis responsible for any harm to Hadi or his chief of staff Ahmed bin Mubarak, taken captive by the rebels on Saturday.

Hadi called for an urgent meeting of the country’s political forces, including the Houthis, Saba reported.

The United Nations Security Council held closed consultations on the “deteriorating situation” in Yemen at the request of Britain.

The 15-member council condemned “the recourse to violence in recent days” in a press statement, urging “all parties in Yemen to commit to the established processes of dialogue and consultation.”

The council “emphasised that all parties and political actors in Yemen must stand with President Hadi, Prime Minister Bahah, and Yemen’s Cabinet to keep the country on track to stability and security,” it said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was “gravely concerned about the deteriorating situation” in Yemen.

Ban called on all Yemeni parties to “immediately cease all hostilities, exercise maximum restraint, and take the necessary steps to restore full authority to the legitimate government institutions”.

The Houthis, who seek to revive the Zaydi Shiite traditions of the historically dominant northern highlands, have expanded across much of northern and central Yemen in the past year.

They have faced increasing resistance from al-Qaeda fighters and some Sunni tribes in central and eastern Yemen since overrunning the capital.

As tension continued in the capital, the commander of an infantry brigade in southern Yemen escaped an ambush by suspected al-Qaeda gunmen in which five of his bodyguards were killed, a military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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