NEWSMAKER-Pressure from powerful Houthis proves too much for Yemen’s Hadi – Reuters


* Shi’ite Muslim rebels seize Hadi’s residence

* May also have fallen foul of predecessor Saleh

* Unassuming former general built no power base

By Noah Browning

Jan 22 (Reuters) – Yemen’s President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi,
held virtual prisoner at his home by political adversaries this
week, resigned on Thursday, his two-year-old attempt to steer
the fragile country to stability exhausted by opposition from
Houthi rebels.

His term as head of state of the poor Arabian peninsula
state may also have fallen foul of less visible opposition from
his predecessor, veteran former strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Although parliament promptly rejected his offer to step
down, Hadi said he had reached “a dead end” after repeated
confrontations with the Houthi movement, which seized the city
in September, becoming the country’s de facto top power.

The former army general’s departure deals a blow to a
crumbling Yemeni state, which at times has acted as a bulwark
against total warfare among a kaleidoscope of feuding
politicians and sectarian militants – all heavily armed.

The Houthis have not been Hadi’s only headache.

Diplomats say the movement’s entry into Sanaa was made
possible by a tactical alliance with his predecessor, Saleh, who
retains wide influence, especially in the army, despite having
stepped down in 2012 after months of Arab Spring protests.

Saleh’s critics widely accuse him of making common cause
with the rebels to settle old scores and undermine Hadi, despite
himself having fought several wars against the rebels in the
mountainous North.

The regular army appeared to make little attempt to assist
Hadi’s presidential guards this week when they fought battles
with Houthi forces in a flare-up of tension, an indication, some
Yemenis believe, of Saleh’s continued favour to the Shi’ites.

The only name on the ballot for February 2012 elections,
Hadi was the meant to guide predominantly Sunni Yemen through a
transition to democracy shepherded by Western and regional
powers after Arab Spring protests ousted his autocrat
predecessor the year before.

Inheriting a nation in chaos, Hadi faced long odds: the
economy was collapsing, al Qaeda repeatedly struck at the army
and state while secessionism festered in the North and South.

Despite years of service as Saleh’s deputy, Hadi has
suggested his former boss made no attempt to help him settle
into the top job. In a speech earlier this month, state media
reported Hadi as saying that when he took office “all I received
was the republican flag.”

A former army general from Yemen’s once independent and
socialist South, Hadi moved to the North amid political turmoil
at home in 1986, rising through the ranks to become Saleh’s
vice-president for two decades.

Soft-spoken and unassuming, 69-year old Hadi was hardly
considered a rival by the former strongman, but he appears not
to have won a firm power base during his decades in uniform and
a series of political and military setbacks battered his
administration.

“CONSPIRACY”

Hailing from a sect of Shi’ite Islam, the Houthi rebel
movement steadily pushed southward toward Sanaa last year,
trading its traditional demand for regional autonomy for a
chance at becoming national power brokers.

When the capital finally fell with weak resistance from the
army on September 21, Hadi sensed Saleh had helped lay him low.

“I realize you’re surprised at the handing over of state and
military institutions this way – this conspiracy defies the
imagination,” he told a group of top political and security
chiefs at his headquarters.

“There’s a planned conspiracy, and alliances among the
former stakeholders itching for revenge.”

After the United Nations Security Council slapped Saleh with
sanctions for his alleged role in the upheaval, the ex-leader’s
party cut Hadi from the former ruling party and increased his
isolation.

His policy appeared to drift as the Houthis fanned out
across the country’s South and West, engaging in pitched battles
with Sunni tribes and Yemen’s al-Qaeda affiliate – which claimed
the deadly attack on a magazine in Paris this month and which is
widely considered the deadliest offshoot of the militant group.

“The man’s time in office have been marked by his inability
to take timely decisions, letting problems pile up and causing
his failure to interact with developments,” author and political
analyst Abdul-Bari Taher told Reuters.

Al-Qaeda claimed credit for a series of spectacularly gory
attacks in the capital against Houthi militiamen and security
forces, while the enfeebled president wrangled with the
capital’s Houthi masters over a new draft constitution.

The political arm-wrestle deteriorated into an open fight
when Houthi gunmen abducted Hadi’s chief of staff Ahmed Awad bin
Mubarak on Saturday, and heavy shelling and gunfire between army
factions and the fighters began to convulse Sanaa on Monday.

Houthi fighters entered the presidential palace and
positioned themselves outside his private home, where he
actually lives, replacing his regular guards.

Hadi issued a statement on Wednesday signalling he was
willing to accede to Houthi demands for more power, but also
saying the guards outside his house would be removed. By
Thursday afternoon, they remained in place, another humiliation.

Hours later he issued his resignation letter to the speaker
of parliament.

“We apologise to you personally and to the honourable
chamber and to the Yemeni people after we reached a dead end,” a
government spokesman quoted Hadi’s resignation letter as saying.

(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, William Maclean and Anna
Willard)

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