Rebels hold Yemen’s president ‘captive’ at his house

Published 7:45 am Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SANAA, Yemen — Shiite rebels in control of Yemen’s capital now hold the country’s president “captive” at his home, his aides said Wednesday, putting in question who actually rules the Arab world’s most-impoverished nation.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi “cannot leave his house” after Houthi rebels removed his guards and deployed their own fighters there Wednesday, one aide said.

Another described the country being at the “point of no return.” Hadi can’t resign as president as the Houthis have threatened to prosecute him, that aide said. The two aides spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to speak to journalists.

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The embattled Hadi — a top U.S. ally in the war against al-Qaida in Yemen — appears to have run out of options to continue governing the country, months after the Houthis began a blitz across the country in September. It also raises the danger of al-Qaida in Yemen, which claimed the recent attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and failed assaults on the U.S. homeland, could grow more powerful in the chaos.

Advisers said Wednesday that Houthis issued a list of demands to Hadi, asking for the post of vice president and several key government offices, during a meeting Tuesday with Hadi’s advisers.

The collapse of Hadi’s powers is rooted in Yemen’s fractured armed forces, torn between Hadi and his predecessor, deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saleh — removed from power after 2011 uprising— is accused by many as orchestrating Houthis’ seizure of Sanaa and speeding Hadi’s failure. Critics also say the Houthis have the backing of regional Shiite power Iran, a charge they deny.

Capitalizing on the chaos, Saleh made a rare public statement Wednesday, urging Hadi to call for early presidential and parliamentary elections. Saleh also called for the cancellation of United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed on him and two Houthi leaders last year for “spoiling” the transition.