Yemeni militants seize palace, attack president’s home

Published January 21, 2015
Huthi fighters stand near a damaged post at a Presidential Guards barracks on a mountain overlooking the Presidential Palace they seized on Tuesday. — Reuters
Huthi fighters stand near a damaged post at a Presidential Guards barracks on a mountain overlooking the Presidential Palace they seized on Tuesday. — Reuters

SANAA: Shia militia fighters attacked Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi’s residence and seized the presidential palace on Tuesday in what officials said was a bid to overthrow his embattled government.

As the UN Security Council began an emergency meeting over the unrest, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “gravely concerned” and called for an immediate halt to the fighting.

The leader of the militia seizing the presidential palace later warned that “all options are open” in the action against the authority of President Hadi.

“All options are open in this action. We will take any measure to protect the peace and partnership agreement,” signed after the militia overran Sanaa in September, Abdul Malik al-Huthi said. “No one, the president or anyone else, will be above our measures if they stand to implement a conspiracy against this country,” he warned in a televised statement.

The past two days have seen a dramatic escalation in violence in Sanaa, raising fears that Mr Hadi’s government, a key US ally in its fight against Al Qaeda, will collapse and the country will descend into chaos.

Information Minister Nadia Sakkaf said the militiamen, known as Huthis, had launched an attack on Mr Hadi’s residence, after witnesses reported clashes had erupted at the building in western Sanaa.


Huthi fighters take control of state media, attack convoy of prime minister


He was earlier reported to have been in the residence meeting with his advisers and security officials.

“The Yemeni president is under attack by militiamen who want to overthrow the regime,” Sakkaf said on Twitter.

Witnesses said the fighting outside the residence appeared to have subsided after two soldiers were killed.

A military official said the militiamen had also seized the presidential palace in southern Sanaa, where Mr Hadi’s offices are located.

“The Huthi militiamen have entered the complex and are looting its arms depots,” the official said.

Prominent Huthi member Ali al-Bukhaiti said on Facebook that the fighters “have taken control of the presidential complex”.

The fresh unrest shattered a ceasefire agreed after a bloody day on Monday.

Huthi fighters and government troops fought pitched battles near the presidential palace and in other parts of Sanaa, leaving at least nine people dead and 67 wounded.

The militia seized an army base overlooking the presidential palace, took control of state media and opened fire on a convoy carrying the prime minister from Mr Hadi’s residence.

Prime Minister Khalid Bahah escaped to his residence, where he has lived since taking office in October, and it was surrounded late on Monday by the Huthis.

Tensions have been running high in Sanaa since the Huthis on Saturday abducted Mr Hadi’s chief of staff, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, in an apparent move to extract changes to a draft constitution that he is overseeing.

Mr Mubarak is in charge of a “national dialogue” set up after veteran strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced from power in February 2012 following a year of bloody Arab Spring-inspired protests.

Mr Saleh has been accused of backing the Huthis and a source in the presidential guard said some Yemeni troops still loyal to the ex-leader had supported the militia in Monday’s fighting.

The source said groups of soldiers and fighters left the Sanaa home of Mr Saleh’s son Ahmed, Yemen’s current ambassador in the United Arab Emirates, “to lend a hand to Huthi fighters”.

Residents said some soldiers had abandoned their positions on the hill overlooking the presidential palace without any resistance to the Huthis.

Before his kidnapping, Mr Mubarak had been due to present a draft constitution dividing Yemen into a six-region federation, which the Huthis oppose.

The militants, who hail from Yemen’s remote north and fought a decade-long war against the government, have rejected the decentralisation plan, claiming it divides the country into rich and poor regions.

Published in Dawn January 21st , 2015

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