Houthi militants guard presidential palace in Yemen following coup
A tank takes position near the presidential palace in Sanaa, following a coup by Houthi militants, January 21, 2015. (AFP/File)
Click here to add Abdel-Malek al-Houthi as an alert
Disable alert for Abdel-Malek al-Houthi,
Click here to add Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi as an alert
Disable alert for Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi,
Click here to add Aden as an alert
Disable alert for Aden,
Click here to add Ali Abdullah Saleh as an alert
Disable alert for Ali Abdullah Saleh,
Click here to add Ban Ki-moon as an alert
Disable alert for Ban Ki-moon,
Click here to add Mohammed al-Bukhaiti as an alert
Disable alert for Mohammed al-Bukhaiti,
Click here to add Paris as an alert
Disable alert for Paris,
Click here to add Reuters as an alert
Disable alert for Reuters,
Click here to add Riyadh as an alert
Disable alert for Riyadh,
Click here to add Sanaa as an alert
Disable alert for Sanaa,
Click here to add Suez as an alert
Disable alert for Suez,
Click here to add Washington as an alert
Disable alert for Washington
Armed fighters from Yemen's powerful Houthi movement stood guard on Wednesday outside the private residence of President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, whose home is normally protected by presidential security officers, witnesses said.
Sentry posts were initially empty and there was no sign of the presidential guard at the compound, the witnesses added, after two days of fighting that have put the Houthi group in all but total control of the capital. However a few guards later appeared and were permitted to take up positions.
Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthi politburo, told Reuters: "President Hadi is still in his home. There is no problem, he can leave."
Houthi fighters battled guards at the Hadi's home and entered his palace on Tuesday, raising the stakes in a drive for political reforms and power-sharing.
Bukhaiti claimed his group had no plans to target Hadi.
"Ansarullah has no intention of targeting President Hadi or his house," Bukhaiti, told Reuters, using the Houthi group's official name.
He said what happened at Hadi's house was the result of a "provocation" by Hadi's security and that the incident has been contained. Earlier on Tuesday, Houthi fighters had entered Yemen's presidential palace after a brief clash with security guards, witnesses and security sources told Reuters.
Bukhaiti said the Popular Committees acted at the palace on request from officers who had asked them to help stop a local officer from stealing weapons from the compound.
Meanwhile, security authorities closed air, sea and land crossings into Yemen's southern port city of Aden on Wednesday, a local television station reported.
The manager of Aden airport said the airport had been closed from early morning until further notice on the orders of the local security committee, which oversees security in the city. A statement was also read on television from the security committee saying all air, sea and land crossings were closed.
The measures followed what it said was an act of aggression against Hadi, calling the Houthi militia attacks on state institutions in Sanaa an "aggressive coup on the president personally and on the political process as a whole."
Speaking hours after his fighters' display of force, Houthi Leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi warned Hadi that he had to implement a partnership agreement that would ensure all Yemeni factions have a fair governmental representation.
"All the options are open and without exception and the ceiling is very, very high. And this is why, I here advise the president to implement this deal. It is for your benefit and for the benefit of your people," he said on live television.
Houthi said he was pushing for the accord as it grants Houthis’ participation in all military and civil state bodies, saying his group would use "any necessary measures" to implement it.
"We ... will not hesitate to impose any necessary measures to implement the peace and partnership agreement," he said.
Houthi's speech appeared to leave little doubt that his movement was now in effective control of the country. Al-Masdar newspaper referred to him as "the president's president."
Insecurity and political turmoil have mounted in Yemen since 2011 protests ousted former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The northern-based Houthis established themselves as power brokers in Yemen in September by capturing Sanaa against scant resistance from Hadi's administration, who appears not to have a full grip on the country's fractious military.
The Houthi insurrection is one of several security challenges in Yemen, which borders oil exporter Saudi Arabia and is struggling with a secessionist movement in the south and the spread of an al-Qaeda insurgency.
The Houthis, who belong to the Zaydi sect of Shia Islam, have been involved in a decade-long conflict with the government.
Prior to the emergence of the Houthis as Yemen's de facto top power in September, Houthi protesters blocked the main road to the capital’s airport and held sit-ins at ministries calling for the ousting of the government and the restoration of subsidies cut by the state in July as part of economic reforms.
The steady expansion of Houthis since September has angered al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which views Shias as heretics and Houthis as pawns of both the US and Iran.
Hadi, an ally of Saudi Arabia, the West and staunch supporter of US drone attacks on AQAP — which claimed a series of deadly attacks in and outside Yemen including the January 7 attack in Paris on a French satirical journal — has been also increasingly at odds with Houthi over a draft constitution intended to help end decades of conflict and underdevelopment.
Gulf Arab foreign ministers were due to discuss the internal affairs of Yemen, including Tuesday’s escalation in tensions, at an emergency meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh later on Wednesday.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, condemned the “violence” and called for order in the country.
Residents said that Tuesday’s fighting had died down later in the day. A government official said two people had been killed.
The United States remains "firmly committed" to supporting Hadi and his government and is calling for an "immediate cessation of hostilities,” a State Department official said.
US officials in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were not sure of Hadi's status or whether he was in either of the buildings under siege by Houthis.
They said their latest information from Sanaa indicated Houthi rebels were surrounding Hadi's private residence and were in control, or close to taking control, of his official residence.
The US officials claimed Iran was backing the Houthi rebellion with financial and political support. Some officials said alleged shipments of weapons from Iran to the Yemeni Houthis had been “tracked by foreign governments.”
Yemen is a key US ally in the fight against AQAP, allowing Washington to conduct a longstanding drone war against the group on its territory.
However, US drone attacks in the impoverished Gulf country have also killed many civilians unaffiliated with al-Qaeda.
The instability in Yemen has raised fears that the country, next to oil-rich Saudi Arabia and key shipping routes from the Suez Canal to the Gulf, could become a failed state along the lines of Somalia, as it struggles to recover following the ousting of Saleh.