Two parties withdraw from Yemen talks due to Houthi threat

Published February 9th, 2015 - 04:15 GMT
The Houthis released a "constitutional declaration" on Friday, dissolving parliament and taking control of the Yemeni government. (AFP/File)
The Houthis released a "constitutional declaration" on Friday, dissolving parliament and taking control of the Yemeni government. (AFP/File)

Yemeni political factions resumed UN-brokered talks on Monday with the Houthi militia that grabbed power last week, but two groups walked out underlining the complexity of the crisis.

Factions including the Houthis would take part in the talks, envoy Jamal Benomar said Sunday as the UN chief called for Western-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to be restored to power.

Islah, a big opposition party that merges Islamist and tribal interests, and the smaller Nasserist Organization, quit Monday's first round of talks saying they had been threatened by a Houthi representative at the negotiations, Mehdi al-Meshaat.

"We will not return to the table of negotiations," Nasserite party chief Abdullah Nooman told reporters as he left the closed-door meeting in the capital Sanaa.

Nooman charged that the Houthis were insisting on holding talks based on the "constitutional declaration" under which they took over the government on Friday.

The Houthis "have threatened to take measures" against the Nasserite party and al-Islah, an Islamist party whose supporters have battled the militia, he added.

On Friday, the militia dissolved parliament and created a "presidential council" in a move it said was designed to fill a power vacuum after Hadi and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah resigned last month.

The militia also claimed that the move was a way of heading off the threat from al-Qaeda, which has a strong presence in east and south Yemen.

Benomar told reporters in Sanaa that Houthi leader "Abdel Malek al-Houthi and all political parties in Yemen have agreed to resume dialogue... which will begin tomorrow (Monday)."

"I stress on the need for all political leaderships to take up their responsibilities and achieve consensus to overcome this political impasse the country is going through," Benomar said, insisting on a "peaceful solution" to the crisis.

The UN envoy insisted that all political leaders "take up their responsibilities and achieve consensus" in order to reach a "peaceful solution" to the crisis.

Tensions remained high in the south and southeast, where authorities said they did "not recognize" the rule of the Houthis and that they "totally reject the constitutional declaration" under which they seized control.

Speaking to reporters after talks with Saudi King Salman, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned "the situation is very, very seriously deteriorating, with the Houthis taking power and making this government vacuum."

"There must be restoration of legitimacy of President Hadi," Ban said.

Gulf countries condemn Houthi takeover

The fall of Hadi's government has sparked fears that impoverished Yemen — strategically located next to oil-rich Saudi Arabia and on the key shipping route from the Suez Canal to the Gulf — would plunge into chaos.

Yemen's Gulf neighbors, led by Saudi Arabia, on Saturday condemned what they called a "coup" in Sanaa.

A US official at a security conference in Munich said Washington and its Gulf Arab allies "don't agree" with the Houthis' plans for a transition.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi on Sunday echoed that statement, branding the Houthi move as a "coup against constitutional legitimacy to impose that group's will at gunpoint."

Hadi had been under virtual house arrest since the Houthis seized the presidential palace and key government buildings last month, prompting him to tender his resignation to parliament, along with Bahah.

The Houthis have said they will set up a national council of 551 members to replace the legislature in the violence-wracked country.

Yemen is a key American ally in the fight against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), letting Washington wage a drone war in the country which has led to many civilian casualties.

Abdel Malek al-Houthi said creating the transitional bodies, which include a security committee, would also head off the threat from al-Qaeda.

The Houthis also announced that Hadi's defense minister, General Mahmoud al-Subaihi, would chair the security commission which will include the outgoing interior minister.

Al-Qaeda views Shias as heretics and Houthis as pawns of Iran.

Houthi said on Saturday the establishment of the transitional bodies was "in the interest of all Yemenis without exception," including separatists in the country's south, who have rejected the move.

Southern Yemen prepares armed opposition to Houthis

However, the statement by authorities in the south, which was independent until 1990, said forces in these provinces — Aden, Abyan, Lahj, Shabwa, Daleh and Hadramawt — rejected the Houthi takeover.

In the oil-rich eastern province of Marib, deputy governor Abdulwahid Namran told AFP that tribesmen were "discussing means of facing any developments."

Marib residents said heavily armed tribes were preparing to counter any attempts by the Houthis to take over their region.

"The Houthis are incapable of governing Yemen alone," analyst Ali al-Bakaly said.

Bakaly said any attempts to expand beyond Sanaa and nearby cities "under the cover of the constitutional declaration... will provoke a civil war" in the deeply tribal country awash with weapons.

The Houthis, also known as Ansarullah, have been met by deadly resistance from al-Qaeda and Sunni tribes and have been met by nearly daily protests in Sanaa since they descended from their northern strongholds and expanded south of Sanaa last year.

The interior ministry announced a ban Sunday on all anti-Houthi protests unless they are authorized by the ministry, which itself is under the militia's control.

UN Security Council president Liu Jieyi said on Friday its 15 members were ready to "take further steps" if UN-brokered negotiations were not resumed "immediately."

Yemen has been riven by instability since the Arab Spring-inspired uprising that forced strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh from power in 2012.


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