SANAA, Feb. 15 – Shiite militiamen who seized power in Yemen vowed to defy “threats” as the UN Security Council prepared to adopt a resolution Sunday calling on them to step aside or face consequences.
Yemen is a traditional US ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda, but the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country has descended into chaos since the militia known as Huthis overran the capital in September.
Another city they captured last year, Ibb in central Yemen, was the scene of violence on Sunday when Huthis fired live rounds to disperse hundreds of protesters, wounding several of them. Following their seizure of Sanaa and Ibb, matters worsened when they ousted the government and dissolved parliament on February 6, tightening their grip after Western-backed President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi resigned in protest at their advance.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned Yemen is falling apart and called for Hadi’s reinstatement. Citing security concerns, nine Arab and Western countries shuttered their embassies in Yemen last week and evacuated diplomats. The Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution Sunday calling on the militia to withdraw their forces from government and security institutions “immediately and unconditionally”.
It also urges the Huthis to “engage in good faith in the UN-brokered negotiations” led by special envoy Jamal Benomar and to release Hadi, his Prime Minister Khalid Bahah, as well as other officials and activists under de facto house arrest or in detention.
– UN’s first resolution –
According to Western diplomats, Russia, which is already under US and European sanctions over its annexation of Crimea and backing of rebels in eastern Ukraine, was reluctant to vote for sanctions.
The text marks the Security Council’s first resolution on Yemen since the Huthis ousted the government and parliament, in a move the United States and Gulf Arab countries have described as a “coup”. At a Riyadh meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council on Saturday, Yemen’s neighbours urged the UN to evoke Chapter Seven of the United Nations Charter, which allows for economic and military pressure to enforce Council decisions.
They said they themselves would act if the rival factions fail to resolve their differences, without elaborating. Huthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam, quoted Sunday by the official Saba news agency which is under the Shiite militia’s control, insisted that “the Yemeni people won’t cede power in the face of threats.” Abdulsalam said Yemenis were “engaged in a process of self-determination free of any (foreign) tutelage”.
– Huthis denounce ‘blackmail’ –
He denounced as “provocative blackmail” demands for the Huthis to relinquish power and criticised the withdrawal of ambassadors. In their bid to establish authority across Yemen since sweeping down from their mountainous northern stronghold in September, the militiamen have tried to stifle opposition and have been accused of detaining and torturing opponents.
They announced a ban on anti-Huthi protests last week, unless authorised by the interior ministry under their control, and have repeatedly fired live rounds to disperse demonstrations in Sanaa as well the central city Ibb, which they overran last year. The family of a demonstrator detained by the Huthis last week at a protest against their takeover said he had died late Friday of torture wounds suffered in captivity.
Another two protesters who were held with him have been hospitalised after being found wounded and left on a street. On Sunday, several protesters were wounded in Ibb when the Huthis fired live rounds to disperse hundreds who took to the streets demanding the release of activist Ahmed Hazzaa, witnesses said. Hazzaa, a leader of the anti-Huthi Rafdh (rejection) Movement, was detained on Saturday in Ibb by Shiite militiamen, members of his group told AFP.
The Huthis are accused of receiving support from Shiite-dominated Iran which had criticised the “hasty action” of closing embassies in Sanaa, and insisted the Huthis were fighting “corruption and terrorism”. Among the countries that have closed their embassies and pulled out their staff are Britain, France, Germany and the United States. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have taken similar action.