Middle East

Yemen crisis: US, UK and France close Sanaa embassies

Yemeni police deployed near the US embassy in Sanaa (11 February 2015) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The US said "recent unilateral actions" had disrupted the political transition process in Yemen

The US, UK and France are closing their embassies in Yemen due to the deteriorating security situation and political crisis in the country.

The US and UK governments have withdrawn diplomatic staff from Sanaa and urged their citizens to leave.

France's embassy in the capital has announced that it will close on Friday.

The moves come as the UN attempts to broker talks between political factions and Shia rebels who control Sanaa and dissolved parliament last week.

President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and his cabinet resigned on 22 January after the rebels, known as Houthis, overran the presidential palace and placed them under effective house arrest.

The Houthis have taken over predominantly Sunni parts of central and western Yemen in recent months, sparking battles with tribesmen and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), after advancing from their stronghold in the far north and seizing Sanaa in September.

The crisis has threatened to derail the UN-backed transition to democracy launched after mass protests forced long time President Ali Abdullah Saleh to hand over power to Mr Hadi in 2011.

'Unilateral actions'

The UK foreign office announced early on Wednesday that it was temporarily suspending the operations of the British embassy in Sanaa. The ambassador and diplomatic staff will return to the UK.

"The security situation in Yemen has continued to deteriorate over recent days," UK Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood said. "Regrettably we now judge that our embassy staff and premises are at increased risk."

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The Houthis claim their takeover was necessary to prevent a power vacuum in Yemen

The decision came hours after the US state department said it had decided to suspend operations at its embassy in the capital.

"Recent unilateral actions disrupted the political transition process in Yemen, creating the risk that renewed violence would threaten Yemenis and the diplomatic community in Sanaa," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Ms Psaki said the US government reiterated the call of the UN Security Council for the immediate release of President Hadi, Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and members of his cabinet.

"An inclusive political process cannot resume with members of the country's leadership under house arrest," she added.

'Partnership'

But rebel leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi rejected Western fears about the security situation in Yemen in a televised address on Tuesday evening, insisting they were "unfounded".

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Rebel leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi proposed a "partnership" with the main parties in a televised address

Mr Houthi said it was "in the interests of everyone, both inside and outside the country, that Yemen be stable" and warned that "the interests of those who bet on chaos and want to hurt the economy and security of the people will suffer", singling out Sunni-ruled states in the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) who have accused the Houthis of a "coup".

The UN's special envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, organised talks between the Houthis and the main political factions last week, but they collapsed on Thursday. The following day, the Houthis announced that they would impose their own political solution to end the stand-off.

They declared that parliament would be dissolved and replaced by an interim assembly that would elect a five-member presidential council to govern for a transitional period of up to two years.

The UN-mediated talks resumed on Monday but quickly descended into arguments, with participants accusing the Houthis of threatening to use force to compel them to accept their plan.

In Tuesday's address, Mr Houthi proposed a "partnership" with the main parties, but he warned the Sunni Islamist party Islah - one of the rebels' fiercest opponents - to give up on an ideology "that excludes the other".

Related Topics