Shiite leader defends Yemen takeover

The Shiite Huthi militia chief Saturday defended the formation of a "presidential council" which consolidates his power as serving the interests of all Yemenis, despite street protests and Gulf condemnation.

AFP| Last Updated: Feb 07, 2015, 23:12 PM IST

Sanaa: The Shiite Huthi militia chief Saturday defended the formation of a "presidential council" which consolidates his power as serving the interests of all Yemenis, despite street protests and Gulf condemnation.

"This historic and responsible initiative is in the interest of the country... because it fills a political vacuum," Abdel Malek al-Huthi said in a televised address to his supporters gathered in a northern Sanaa stadium.

He said it was "in the interest of all Yemenis without exception", including the separatists of southern Yemen.

The formation of the council, announced on Friday, would also head off the threat from Al-Qaeda which has a strong presence in east and south Yemen, Huthi said.

"If Al-Qaeda takes control of the country, it will plot against our brothers in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf," he warned, following Gulf condemnation of his Shiite militia`s actions.

Yemen`s Gulf neighbours on Saturday condemned the moves by the Shiite militia, named Huthis after their leadership, and said they "totally undermine" international and regional efforts to help resolve the impoverished country`s crisis.

"The Huthi coup marks a grave and unacceptable escalation... and endangers the security, stability, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yemen," said the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The six Sunni monarchies said their own security was linked to that of their neighbour Yemen, and vowed to take "all the necessary measures to defend their interests", without elaborating.

The Shiite militia overran Sanaa in September and seized the presidential palace and key government buildings last month, prompting Western-backed President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and Prime Minister Khalid Bahah to tender their resignations.

In an announcement on Saturday, the Huthis said Hadi`s defence minister, General Mahmud al-Subaihi, would chair a newly formed "security commission", which also included the outgoing interior minister.

Influential tribal leaders in the oil-rich eastern province of Marib have said they "rejected the authors of this coup".And a US official at a security conference in Munich said Washington and its GCC allies "don`t agree" with the Huthi "presidential council".

UN Security Council president Liu Jieyi said its 15 members were ready to "take further steps" if UN-brokered negotiations to resolve Yemen`s political crisis were not resumed "immediately".

The task of the Huthi-declared "security commission" announced on Saturday is to "lead the country`s affairs until the establishment of a presidential council", the Shiite militia said.

The declaration was followed by a blast outside the Huthi-controlled presidential palace, and protests by thousands of people on the streets of Yemeni cities, witnesses said.

Gunmen loyal to the Shiite militia fired into the air to disperse demonstrators in Sanaa and detained 17 of them, in what was a second successive day of anti-Huthi protests.

On Friday, the Huthis said they would set up a national council of 551 members to replace parliament in the violence-wracked country, a key US ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda.

The five-member "presidential council" would form a transitional government to run Yemen for two years, they announced.

The announcement came after a Wednesday deadline set by the militia for political parties to resolve Yemen`s crisis passed with no agreement, and also included the creation of a "revolutionary council".

UN envoy Jamal Benomar, who has been striving to seek a negotiated solution to the crisis, was back in Sanaa on Saturday and expected to meet members of the revolutionary council, the Huthi-controlled state new agency Saba reported.

Friday`s declaration by the Huthis bore the signature of Mohammad Ali al-Huthi and described him as "president of the revolutionary council".

Yemen, which is also fighting an Al-Qaeda insurgency, has been riven by instability since the Arab Spring-inspired uprising that forced autocratic president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power in 2012.

There has been no early reaction from Saleh to the Huthi announcements, although he has been accused of backing the militia, as has Shiite-dominated Iran which also has not reacted.