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Yemen's Former President Flees Capital After Escaping Rebel House Arrest

One report said Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi disguised himself in women’s clothing to escape house arrest by Houthi rebels and return to his hometown of Aden.

by Olivia Becker
Feb 21 2015, 4:05pm

Photo by Hani Mohammed/AP

Yemen's former president has fled his residence in the capital of Sanaa after weeks of house arrest by Houthi rebels who recently forced his ouster and have taken control of the country.

Ex-President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi reportedly escaped wearing a disguise of women's clothing, according to Houthi politburo member Ali al-Qahoum, who was quoted in local Houthi news outlet Al-Akhbar. 

The report saying Hadi fled in women's clothing could not be immediately confirmed, however, and Yemen experts expressed skepticism about the Houthi version of events. It's still unclear how Hadi managed to leave his official residence, which has been tightly guarded by the Houthis since January.

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Witnesses told Reuters that Houthi militiamen quickly looted the former president's residence after he left. A senior political source and Houthi official also told the news agency that the United Nations helped Hadi travel to his hometown of Aden from the capital after the UN, United States, and rival political parties pressured the Houthi rebels to let him go.

Yet Jamal Benomar, UN special adviser on Yemen, denied claims that the UN had anything to do with Hadi's escape.

"Contrary to allegations published by Reuters, the United Nations had no involvement with President Hadi leaving Sana'a for Aden," Benomar said in a statement posted Saturday on his Facebook page.

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Also on Saturday, armed Houthi members opened fire on protesters in the city of Ibb, killing at least one person, according to Reuters.

Massive demonstrations against the Houthi government takeover have been taking place throughout Yemen since the group seized power in January.

Hadi's escape comes just two days after Yemen's rival political factions, guided by the UN, agreed to form a "people's transitional council" to help steer the country out of its current crisis.

The new agreement would keep Yemen's former House of Representatives in place, while also forming a new council made up of the country's underrepresented sectors, including women, young people, and people from the south. The two bodies would work together to draft legislation and guide Yemen to forming a more stable government, according to Benomar.

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Benomar said in a statement Thursday that the transitional council was not a final agreement but "an important step on the path to accomplish a political agreement that would end the current crisis."

The Houthis are a Shia group that invaded the capital in September and then forced the resignation of the president and his entire cabinet in January. Three weeks later, Houthi leaders dissolved Yemen's Parliament and announced the formation of a "Revolutionary Council" that would appoint a new prime minister and cabinet.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928