SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen's Shiite rebels on Monday threatened to arrest and try for treason the prime minister and all Cabinet members if they fail to return to work, as thousands took to the streets in the capital, Sanaa, to denounce the rebels and show support for the country's embattled president.
The developments were the latest in Yemen's escalating crisis in the wake of the power grab by the Shiite rebels known as the Houthis. The rebels' expansion has threatened to fracture this impoverished Arabian Peninsula country along sectarian and regional fault lines.
The Houthis swept into Sanaa last September, after battling their way from the northern Shiite heartland and imposing control over at least nine provinces. Since taking over the country, they also disbanded the parliament and empowered their security arm, known as the Revolutionary Committee, to act as the country's top decision-makers.
Monday's protesters in Sanaa chanted in support of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who over the weekend fled the capital, where he had been held under house arrest by the Houthis.
Hadi arrived in the southern port city of Aden and from there, called on the Houthis to leave the capital and announced on Sunday that he is still the legitimate leader of Yemen.
The United Nations has tried to resolve the crisis and has held several rounds of talks with the main political parties, with apparently no headway. Seven key parties sent representatives Monday to Aden for a meeting with Hadi, according to Ahmed Lakaz, spokesman of the Unionist Gathering Party.
The Al-Masirah TV channel, which is run by the Houthis, reported on Monday that the rebels would arrest and try Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and all Cabinet members who failed to return to work. On Sunday, the officials were ordered back to work, but they declined.
Bahah and the ministers were placed under house arrest by the rebels in January. They resigned en masse in a gesture of protest and the Houthis subsequently declared they have taken over the country.
Later Monday, Al-Masirah TV said that 17 Cabinet members had agreed to resume their posts. The report could not be immediately confirmed and none of the Cabinet ministers could be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, Sunni tribesmen in control of eastern Marib province, where Yemen's oil infrastructure is based, threatened to cut fuel supplies to Sanaa if the Houthis tried to pressure them by halting the payments of their salaries from the capital.
The Marib governor, Sultan al-Arada, said in a statement obtained by The Associated Press that the Sunni tribes were "making all effort to avert confrontation and warfare."
In western Ibb province, thousands marched behind the coffin of a protester killed there Sunday when Houthis were dispersing a rally. Other anti-rebel demonstrations were held in the central provinces of Taiz and Dhamar, also in a show of support for Hadi.
In the wake of the Houthis power grab, most countries have closed their embassies in Sanaa and moved diplomats and staffers out of the country. On Monday, Egypt closed its mission and withdrew its diplomats.