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Feb 21, 2015 11:33 AM

Former Yemen president flees Sanaa after rebels release him

The Associated Press

SANAA, Yemen (AP) Yemen's former president left the capital after Shiite rebels who had been holding him under house arrest released him under international and local pressure, aides close to him said Saturday.

They said Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi left Sanaa and later arrived in the southern city of Aden, adding that he later plans to leave the country for medical treatment.

Hadi has been under house arrest for several weeks following a coup by Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who captured the capital, Sanaa, in September and dissolved parliament early this month.

While the Houthi's control much of northern Yemen, the southern city of Aden is free from their rule and officials there have rejected the rebel takeover amid ongoing talk of a potential secession.

The aides say the rebels let Hadi go after pressure from the United Nations, the U.S., Russia and local political parties. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to speak to journalists.

Witnesses said the Houthis and others in the area later ransacked Hadi's house and at least three people were seen each taking out a Kalashnikov assault rifle from the house. The spokesman for Yemen's embassy in Washington, Mohammed Albasha, said on Twitter that Hadi and his family had arrived safely in Aden, but that his press secretary had been detained.

Jamal Benomar, the U.N. envoy to Yemen, said Friday that rival factions, including the Houthis, have agreed on a new legislative body consisting of former and new lawmakers to serve during the country's upcoming transition period.

But a coalition of Yemeni parties voiced objections to the plan, describing it as an insufficient half-solution.

Ahmed Lakaz, spokesman of the Unionist Gathering Party, which is taking part in the dialogue, said the parties told the Houthis that they would not participate in the process until Hadi was freed.

Yemen has been locked in a political crisis since the Houthi rebels took over the capital and eventually forced the resignation of the elected Western-backed Hadi and dissolved the parliament while keeping Hadi and his Cabinet under house arrest.

The ongoing political crisis also casts doubts on the United States' ability to continue its counter-terrorism operations in Yemen, especially with loss of Hadi, a strong U.S. ally.

However, the U.S. has continued to target al-Qaida's branch in Yemen, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, with drone strikes. Tribal sources said Friday that two suspected al-Qaida members were killed in a drone strike in the southern province of Shabwa.

Meanwhile Saturday, Houthis tried to storm a special forces base outside the capital, exchanging fire with troops there who are mostly loyal to Hadi's predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The fighting killed three people, security officials said.

Saleh's aides say he considers the base key to his survival and would never allow it to fall under Houthi control unlike most of Sanaa's other military installations, which are already in rebel hands. Those aides spoke on condition of anonymity as Saleh had not authorized them to speak to reporters.

Thousands also marched Saturday in support of Hadi in southern Ibb province, where they urged the Houthis to leave the region and halt their interference in local affairs. The Houthis opened fire, killing one demonstrator and wounding two, said security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to talk to journalists.


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