Yemeni president and PM resign

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Published: Friday 23rd January 2015 by The News Editor

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Yemen’s US-backed president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi quit under pressure from rebels holding him captive in his home.

The move severely complicated American efforts to combat al Qaida’s powerful local franchise and raised fears that the Arab world’s poorest country will fracture into mini-states.

Presidential officials said Mr Hadi submitted his resignation to parliament rather than make further concessions to Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, who control the capital and are widely believed to be backed by Iran.

The prime minister and his cabinet also stepped down, making a thinly veiled reference to the Houthis’ push at gunpoint for a greater share of power. Houthis deployed their fighters around parliament, which is due to discuss the situation on Sunday.

Yemeni law dictates that the parliament speaker – Yahia al-Rai, a close ally of former autocratic ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh – will now assume the presidency. Mr Saleh still wields considerable power and is widely believed to be allied with the Houthis.

There were conflicting reports suggesting that authorities in Aden, the capital of the southern region of Yemen, would no longer submit to the central government’s authority.

Even before the Houthis’ recent rise, a powerful movement in southern Yemen was demanding autonomy or a return to the full independence the region enjoyed before 1990.

Southerners reject rule by the Houthis, whose power base is in the north. The Houthis are Zaydis, a Shiite minority that makes up about a third of Yemen’s population.

Concerns were also mounting about an economic collapse. Two-thirds of Yemen’s population are already in need of humanitarian aid, according to reported UN figures.

Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, which has long been Yemen’s economic lifeline, cut most of its financial aid to Yemen after the Houthis seized the capital in September. The Houthis deny receiving any Iranian support.

The Houthis’ recent encroachments on Sunni areas have also fanned fears of a sectarian conflict that could fuel support for al Qaida, a Sunni movement that has links to some of the country’s tribes and is at war with both the Shiites and Mr Hadi’s forces.

US officials say the developments are already undermining military and intelligence operations against al Qaida’s Yemen-based affiliate, which made its reach felt in this month’s deadly Paris attacks.

Mr Hadi’s resignation comes four months after President Barack Obama cited Yemen as a terrorism success story in a speech outlining his strategy against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which involves targeted US strikes on militants with the cooperation of a friendly ground force.

Mr Obama called it an approach “that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years”.

In Washington yesterday, a senior state department official said the US embassy remains open and will continue to operate as normal, although with reduced staff.

The resignations mark the collapse of an internationally backed transition that compelled Mr Saleh, who ruled for three decades, to resign in 2012 following months of Arab Spring protests.

Mr Hadi’s rule was deeply undermined by Saleh loyalists who retained posts in state institutions and the security apparatus. Last year the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Mr Saleh and two top Houthi leaders, accusing them of obstructing the political transition.

Despite widespread fears, some observers said the resignation of the elected president could encourage Yemenis to take to the streets just as they did in 2011 against Mr Saleh.

Shortly after Mr Hadi’s resignation, the Supreme Security Committee, the senior security body in Aden, issued orders to all military bases, security bodies and popular committees composed of armed civilians to be on a state of alert and take orders only from Aden central command.

It was not immediately clear how much mandate the security authorities have over the southern region, and analysts predicted that internal conflict among southern secessionist leaders would probably delay action toward a split with the north.

The greater threat, they said, is fragmentation of other regions.

Mr Hadi’s resignation came despite efforts by UN envoy Jamal Benomar to implement a deal reached on Wednesday to resolve the crisis.

“We reached a deadlock,” Mr Hadi said, according to a copy of his letter of resignation obtained by The Associated Press. “We found out that we are unable to achieve the goal, for which we bear a lot of pain and disappointment.”

Presidential adviser Sultan al-Atawani told AP that the Houthis refused to withdraw from the presidential palace, the republican palace where the prime minister lives or from the president’s house.

They also refused to release a senior aide to Mr Hadi whose abduction earlier this week set the violence in motion.

Shortly before Mr Hadi’s resignation, Prime Minister Khaled Bahah submitted his own resignation, saying he feared “being dragged into an abyss of unconstructive policies based on no law”.

Published: Friday 23rd January 2015 by The News Editor

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