By Mohammed Mukhashaf
ADEN(Reuters) - Yemen's president sought to resume his duties as head of state on Sunday, holding his first public engagement with state officials since he fled house arrest in Sanaa by the Houthi group that dominates the northern half of the country.
Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi convened governors of several southern provinces and military commanders at the presidential retreat in the economic hub of Aden, in a meeting which was broadcast on the city's local television channel.
Hadi submitted his resignation last month after Shi'ite Muslim Houthi fighters seized the presidential palace and held him under house arrest in the capital Sanaa in a power struggle that followed months of tension over a constitutional dispute.
But the Yemeni parliament had never convened to approve the resignation for it to go into effect as stipulated by Yemeni laws.
On Saturday Hadi appeared to rescind his resignation after he escaped from Sanaa, saying in a statement he was still president. Aden is firmly outside the control of the Houthis.
Sources at the meeting said Hadi re-affirmed his commitment to a 2011 Gulf-sponsored power transfer deal that allowed his predecessor, veteran Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, to step down following months of Arab Spring protests.
He also slammed the Houthi group, which seized Sanaa in September and completed its takeover of the government last month.
"What is going on is a struggle for authority of the first order and not due to concern for the interests of the people," one source quoted Hadi as telling the meeting.
He also called for the release of Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and other government officials, who have also been kept under house arrest, and demanded they be allowed to resume their duties.
The Houthis have said their takeover was intended to save the country from corruption and from being splintered by a draft constitution that calls for devolving power to local governments.
A member of the Houthi group's Ansarullah politburo, Ali al-Qahoum, was quoted by the local news website al-Akhbar on Saturday as saying that it no longer mattered if Hadi remained in Sanaa or departed.
Hadi's escape and resumption of his duties could undermine talks between major political parties to agree on a new transitional administration to run the country.
Hadi's flight to Aden followed an agreement between Yemen's rival factions on Friday, brokered by the United Nations, to set up a transitional council that keeps the parliament in place and gives a voice to some other groups.
Western countries are worried that unrest in Yemen could create opportunities for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to plot more attacks against international targets.
(Writing by Sami Aboudi, Editing by William Maclean and William Hardy)