Houthis Seize Yemen National Dialogue Headquarters

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A Yemeni man holds a national flag during a demonstration against the Houthi movement on March 4, 2015 in the capital Sanaa. AFP/Mohammed Huwais.

Published Thursday, March 5, 2015

Updated at 4:18 pm (GMT+2): The Houthis seized the offices of a political conciliation body late on Wednesday, hours after President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi refused UN-brokered talks with their powerful movement unless they withdrew from Sanaa.

Around 15 armed Houthis forced their way into and searched the offices of the National Dialogue's secretariat in Sanaa late on Wednesday, the general secretariat said in a statement.

With these actions, the Houthis, who left armed guards in front of the building, were hampering a potential political settlement, the secretariat said.

"As everyone knows, the general secretariat is a technical apparatus which is neutral ... It cannot work under the authority and control of any political party," it said in the statement.

An employee at the secretariat said that Hadi has told it to relocate to Aden and continue its work from there, but the statement asked for the Houthis to let the secretariat continue its work in Sanaa.

Yemen's National Dialogue once played a key role in the country's attempt to move to democracy after a 2011 uprising toppled long-time ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh and Hadi took over in a Gulf-brokered power transfer.

Meanwhile, an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Yemen has been freed and returned to Tehran on Thursday, official media reported.

In July 2013, Nour-Ahmed Nikbakht was seized by gunmen suspected of being members of al-Qaeda, while leaving his home in Sanaa.

Iranian state television broadcast images on Thursday of the diplomat arriving at Mehrabad airport in Tehran.

"I was kidnapped by unknown gunmen and terrorists as I left my home to go to work," Nikbakht said.

He said "many efforts were made by soldiers from (Iran's secret services), the intelligence ministry and the foreign ministry" to secure his release.

Nikbakht was held by militants in a remote area between the southern provinces of Shabwa and Baida, tribal and Yemeni security sources said.

In January 2014, another Iranian diplomat, Ali Asghar Assadi, was shot dead in an attack in a neighborhood in Sanaa housing several foreign embassies.

Yemen, a key front line in the US war against al-Qaeda, has fallen into turmoil since a 2012 uprising forced out autocrat Saleh, who had been in power for 33 years.

Following Saleh’s overthrow, the Houthis, al-Qaeda, separatists from the former independent South Yemen, and tribesmen have been fighting each other to gain power and territory in the fragile state.

The Houthis, who have long clashed with central authorities, descended from their power base in northern Yemen to seize Sanaa in September.

After their attempts to expand into southern and central Yemen were checked by fierce resistance from al-Qaeda and tribesmen, the militia moved to take power in the capital, Sanaa.

On January 22, Hadi and his Prime Minister Khaled Bahah tendered their resignation due to the takeover of capital Sanaa.

Following their resignations, Hadi and Bahah had been held under the house arrest and Mohammed Ali al-Houthi — head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Council — has been considered as the de facto person in power in the capital, Sanaa.

On February 6, the Houthis issued a "constitutional declaration" dissolving Yemen's parliament and launching a 551-member "transitional council."

on February 24, Hadi retracted his resignation after escaping house arrest in the Houthi militia-controlled capital, and called all measures taken by the Houthis "null and illegitimate."

In a letter, he called on government ministers to “head immediately” to the southern city of Aden to convene and urged lawmakers to cooperate with him to "salvage the salvageable and to normalize the security and economic situation in all provinces."

(AFP, Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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