Middle East

Yemen Houthi rebel leader says situation critical

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Media captionAs Sebastian Usher reports, the situation in Yemen is confused

The leader of Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen has said that the country is at a critical and defining moment.

In a televised address, Abdel Malek al-Houthi accused President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and other leaders of putting their interests ahead of the Yemeni people.

Earlier, Houthi rebels shelled the president's home in Sanaa and seized control of the presidential palace.

The UN Security Council condemned the attack and voiced support for Mr Hadi.

Yemen, a key US ally in the fight against al-Qaeda in the region, has been beset by unrest for months.

"What happened was that they [the political leadership] have sunk deep into corruption and tyranny," Mr Houthi said.

"The nation has started moving towards a tragic situation and complete collapse. The situation has worsened on all fronts - political, economic and security - on a large scale."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The rebel leader's speech was broadcast live on Yemeni TV

Mr Houthi also accused the government of encouraging the spread of al-Qaeda in Yemen.

"They helped them to grow in all provinces and the president refused to order the army to wage war against them," he said.

Houthi militias, who are seeking greater autonomy for their home province, overran the capital Sanaa in September after moving out of their northern stronghold.

However, the capital's presidential buildings had remained outside their control.

President Hadi was reported to be inside his house when it was shelled but an official insisted he was safe.

Information Minister Nadia al-Sakkaf said on Twitter the president's home had come under heavy shelling from armed forces positioned on rooftops nearby.

The ceasefire that broke down on Tuesday had been agreed just one day earlier after hours of fierce clashes in the city between the presidential guard and the rebels.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Houthi rebels have set up checkpoints in parts of the capital Sanaa

Under an agreement with President Hadi, the Houthis - who abducted presidential chief of staff Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak on Saturday - pledged to withdraw from the capital once a new unity government was formed.

The UN Security Council said in a statement adopted by all 15 members that President Hadi was "the legitimate authority".

It urged "all parties and political actors in Yemen" to stand with him and the government to "keep the country on track to stability and security".

The Houthis, who adhere to a branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism, have staged periodic uprisings since 2004 in an effort to win greater autonomy for their northern heartland of Saada province.

They consolidated their control over Saada during the 2011 uprising that forced long-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

Since July the rebels have inflicted defeats on tribal and militia groups backed by the leading Sunni Islamist party, Islah, and battled jihadist militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has vowed to defend the country's Sunni community.

Opponents allege that the rebels ultimately hope to reinstall the Zaidi imamate, which ruled North Yemen for almost 1,000 years until 1962.

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