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Yemen's President Resigns During Standoff with Houthi Rebels

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi submitted his letter of resignation to parliament on Thursday, saying ongoing discussions with the Shia Houthi militia were at a “deadlock.”

by Kayla Ruble
Jan 22 2015, 11:00pm

Photo by Yemen's Defense Ministry/AP

Yemen President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his government resigned on Thursday, with negotiations falling apart after more than a week of internal political crisis and pressure from a local rebel militia, according to officials in the country.

Hadi submitted his letter of resignation to the country's parliament, saying ongoing discussions with Shia Houthis were at a "deadlock." The development came during a standoff with the rebels, who surrounded the presidential palace and the leader's private home on Tuesday, confining him inside.

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The Houthis have been fighting for autonomy in northern Yemen over the past year and overran Sanaa with little resistance from security forces in September, prompting a UN-brokered peace deal that established a new government in November to craft a new constitution and address the group's grievances.

But disagreements persisted over the composition of the new constitution, sparking a period of especially high tension due to the Houthis' rejection of a draft that would divide the country into six federal states. On Saturday, the rebels abducted Hadi's chief of staff, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, who had been overseeing the constitutional drafting process.

Hadi agreed on Wednesday to political concessions, including amending the draft constitution, in a deal stipulating that the Houthi fighters would release Mubarak and relinquish their hold on Hadi's private residence, the presidential palace, and other sites — but the rebels did not withdraw, leading some to wonder if a coup was underway.

The president's resignation letter acknowledged that a compromise was not reached.

"We found out that we are unable to achieve the goal, for which we bear a lot of pain and disappointment," he wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Associated Press.

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The Houthis were reportedly unwilling to leave the presidential palace or Hadi's home, and wouldn't free Mubarak. The resignation reportedly came about when the rebels urged Hadi to calm unrest in the capital by delivering a televised speech.

The BBC acknowledged reports suggesting that the country's parliament had declined Hadi's resignation letter. If the resignation goes through, Yemeni law provides for current parliament speaker Yahia al-Rai to assume the presidency.

Violence escalated on Monday with heavy clashes between government troops and the Houthis that began early in the morning and continued for hours. Witnesses reported heavy machine gun and artillery fire, as plumes of black smoke were visible from central parts of the city. The health ministry said that nine people were killed and 67 injured. Prime Minister Khaled Bahah's convoy also came under fire on Monday, although he was unhurt.

The two sides agreed to a ceasefire after negotiations between senior ministers and a tribal chief with links to the Houthis. They were reported to be in peace talks earlier on Tuesday before news of the presidential palace seizure broke.

The Houthis, which are avowedly anti-US and anti-Israel, are accused of being sponsored by Iran and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, an autocrat who was in power for more than 30 years but ousted in 2012 by Arab Spring-inspired protests. The militia group denies these links.

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Thursday's resignation has bolstered fears that the recent violence could hamper both domestic and international efforts to battle the radical group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which Western nations regard as one of al Qaeda's most dangerous branches. It claimed to be responsible for an attack in Paris on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that killed 12 earlier this month. The US had backed President Hadi, who supported Western counterterrorism efforts in his country.

As the Houthis have expanded the areas under their control, they have been fighting local Sunni tribes and AQAP, which has promised to defend Sunnis from the rebels.

Additional reporting by John Beck

Follow Kayla Ruble on Twitter: @RubleKB