SANAA (AP/The Daily Star): Yemen’s Houthi rebels announced Friday that they have taken over the country and dissolved parliament, a dramatic move that finalizes their months-long power grab.
It could also play into the hands of Yemen’s Al-Qaeda branch, the world’s most dangerous offshoot of the terror group, and jeopardize the U.S. counterterrorism operations in the country.
The declaration was read out by TV announcer who said the move marked “a new era that will take Yemen to safe shores.” It was televised to the nation on the rebels’ television network, Al-Masseria TV.
An audience of hundreds of supporters, including former officials, at the Republican Palace in the capital, Sanaa, clapped furiously.
The takeover statement placed Houthis’ security and intelligence arm, known as the “Revolutionary Committee,” as the ruler of Yemen.
The impoverished Arabian Peninsula country has teetered on the brink of fragmentation for the past year but the crisis took a turn for the worse in September, when the Houthis took control of Sanaa after descending from their northern stronghold and fighting their way into central Yemen, seizing several other cities and towns along the way.
Their rising dominance – which included a raid of the presidential palace and a siege of President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi’s residence – forced the president and all Cabinet members to submit their resignations in January.
Since then, Hadi and the ministers have been under house arrest. The rebels issued a deadline, which expired Wednesday, for Yemen’s political parties to negotiate what they called a way forward, warning that if there was no resolution, they would act unilaterally.
The Houthis also said that “Revolutionary Committee” would act as the country’s government. The committee would also be tasked with forming a new parliament with 551 members. The committee is led by Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a cousin of the Houthis’ leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi. The new parliament would then set up a presidential council of five members that would replace Hadi for an interim, two-year period.
The announcement did not give a timetable for elections and gave no indication of Hadi’s fate.
The announcement accused the political parties of “intentionally stalling” and failing to meet the Wednesday deadline, which forced their action, the Houthis said.
The takeover comes after days of failed talks sponsored by the U.N. envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar.The White House said it is “deeply concerned” by the developments. White House spokesman Eric Schultz called it a unilateral step and said the move by the Houthis doesn’t meet the standard set by the U.N. envoy to achieve consensus in Yemen.
But Schultz also said U.S. counterterror operations in Yemen are continuing, uninterrupted, despite the takeover by the Houthis.
There was no immediate reaction from Saudi Arabia, which shares a long border with Yemen. The kingdom is unlikely to welcome the Shiite rebels’ takeover of a country at its doorstep.
Earlier, Mohammed al-Sabri, a top politician from a multiparty alliance called the Joint Meeting Parties, described the Houthis’ actions as a “coup,” predicting it would lead to “international and regional isolation of Yemen.”
Last year, the U.N. Security Council placed two Houthi leaders and deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh – also believed to be a main backer of the Houthis – on a sanctions list for their role in derailing Yemen’s transition. “Today, the Houthis are taking an uncalculated [risk],” Sabri said. “They are a militia, not a political group.”