Yemen's Shiite rebels give president ultimatum

AP News
Posted: Oct 31, 2014 4:32 PM
Yemen's Shiite rebels give president ultimatum

ADEN, Yemen (AP) — Yemen's Shiite rebels, who are in control of the capital, gave the president 10 days starting from Friday to form a government, hinting at a takeover attempt if their demands are not met.

The Shiite group, also known as Houthis, rallied some 3,000 tribal leaders in Sanaa, where they delivered a communique warning President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi that "all revolutionary options are open" if he failed to form a government.

"Our next meeting will be at the headquarters of the decision making," said Deif Allah Rassam, spokesman of the so-called Popular Tribal Alliance. A second speaker at the rally, Naguib al-Mansouri, called for the formation of a "salvation military council."

The government formation is part of a U.N. deal to reach a peaceful settlement to Yemen's political crisis. The deal stated that the president would appoint a new prime minister after consulting with two advisers, one representing the Houthis and a second representing Yemen's disgruntled southern region. After naming a prime minister, the president, together with different political factions, would form a new cabinet which would present its program to parliament within a month.

However, after the appointment of Prime Minister Khaled Bahah more than two weeks ago, disputes among the political factions have delayed the formation of the new government.

Hadi supported a proposal that gives the ruling party nine cabinet seats and other political parties another nine ministries, while the Houthis and the southerners each get six portfolios. Hadi meanwhile would personally appoint four "sovereign" ministries.

That proposal was rejected by the political parties - who demanded one of two options: either all 24 factions that signed the U.N. deal receive a ministerial portfolio or else a cabinet of independent technocrats with no party affiliations be formed.

A presidential official told The Associated Press that Bahah rejects the technocrat cabinet proposal, believing that directly involving the political factions in the new government was the only way to ensure their lasting support. The official said that talks are ongoing to reach a compromise. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The deal signed by the Houthis, Hadi and the rest of Yemen's political factions, stipulated that the Houthis would withdraw their forces from all cities and hand over all captured barracks to the military.

The communique that came out of Friday's rally however called for the establishment of "revolutionary committees" across the country, in reference to the group's militias that have swept through the capital and other cities. The group has previously stated that its committees will continue to fight al-Qaida militants and uproot corruption.

Hadi, the president, said a few days ago that the army is the only force entitled to defend the country against terrorism and the only force that should be fighting against al-Qaida, calling on the Houthis to disband their committees and withdraw.

Many of the attendees of the Friday rally pumped their fists in celebration while chanting a trademark Houthi slogan known as the scream: "Death to America, Death to Israel, Damn Jews and Victory for Islam." The chant resembles an iconic Iranian revolutionary slogan, and the group is suspected of having strong ties to Iran.

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Over the past year, after descending from their highland home in Saada province, the Houthis fought their way to Sanaa and other cities - battling conservative Sunnis, al-Qaida militants and the traditional power brokers of the Islamist Islah Party.

Over the past three days, security officials said that at least 250 people were killed in clashes between Houthis and an influential tribe in the town of Radda, a known al-Qaida stronghold some 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Sanaa. Houthi fighters entered the town last week after an army battalion station there retreated. Local security officials and tribal leaders say the battalion commander is a loyalist of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who they accuse of secretly aiding the Houthis against Hadi's administration.

The Houthi offensive has pushed Yemen into even deeper turmoil. Apart from the rampant al-Qaida insurgency and the Shiite rebel blitz, the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country has also endured crushing poverty that has bred resentment - and outright rebellion - that took root in a secessionist movement in its once-independent southern region.

During the rally, some Houthi speakers reached out to southerners by proposing the formation of a joint northern-southern committee to look into the south's demands.

The call was described as "theatrical," by Adnan Muhsen, a top southern political leader - adding that the demands of southerners are clear and Houthis should simply support their cause.