Middle East

Head of GCC visits embattled Hadi in Aden

Militiamen loyal to Yemen's President Abed Rabou Mansour Hadi ride a vehicle outside the Republican Palace in the southern port city of Aden February 25, 2015. REUTERS/Yaser Hasan

SANAA: Arab Gulf countries threw their support behind Yemen’s embattled president Wednesday as the group’s chief visited Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi amid the Houthis’ power grab in the capital, Sanaa.

Hadi’s top aides said the Gulf Cooperation Council’s secretary-general, Abdel-Latif al-Zayani, visited the president in Aden, days after he escaped to the city.

Hadi recently retracted the resignation he submitted after Houthi rebels held him under house arrest for a month in Sanaa.

The GCC includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman. The Gulf countries see the Houthis as an Iranian-backed group trying to expand Iran’s influence in the region.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Iran “contributed” to the collapse by “critical” support of the Houthis, which Iran denied Wednesday. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham responded by saying Kerry’s statement “is nothing but a blame game completely in contradiction to what was previously mentioned by U.S. officials.”

Hadi told Zayani that he called on all state and government institutions to move to Aden, according to a statement from his office.

The Houthis have warned foreign diplomats and state employees against viewing Hadi as Yemen’s legitimate leader. They also have arrested politicians trying to reach Aden.

Abdullah Noaman, the leader the Nasserist party – one of Yemen’s main political parties – was held at Sanaa airport by Houthi rebels, a party official said.

A senior politician from Yemen’s Socialist Party said he and other party members met with Houthi representatives late Tuesday. He said the Houthis warned them that if they head to Aden, their party risks being dissolved.

Later Wednesday, the Socialists declared they were pulling out of the U.N.-sponsored talks with the Houthis to protest the rebels’ crackdown on opposition protests in the capital earlier.

Meanwhile, Houthi rebels took over a special forces base in the capital and a coast guard station on the Red Sea, according to military sources. The clashes at the Sanaa base started late Tuesday when the Houthis shelled the camp with heavy weapons. Fighting lasted around six hours, soldiers from the camp said, and at least 10 people were killed.

The troops had been trained and equipped by the United States as an elite counterterrorism unit during Saleh’s rule.

The Coast Guard post in the port city of Hodeida was seized after moderate gunfire and military sources did not immediately confirm any casualties.

Tens of thousands of protesters marched in Sanaa to denounce Houthi rule. Security forces loyal to the group dispersed some of the crowds with tear gas and gunshots fired into the air.

For more than a decade the United States has watched with alarm as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has grown in Yemen as the political chaos has mounted.

The U.S. military trained and kitted out Yemeni soldiers under former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and under Hadi the CIA has stepped up drone strikes aimed at killing suspected militants.

U.S. officials have expressed concern that the rule of the resolutely anti-American Houthis will harm their counterterrorism efforts in a country that shares a long border with Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter.

In other developments, U.N. experts said in a report that Saleh is alleged to have amassed assets worth between $32 billion and $60 billion, most believed to have been transferred abroad under other names.

The experts, who monitor U.N. sanctions ordering all countries to freeze the assets of Saleh and two Houthi rebel leaders, said the former president’s assets are believed to include property, cash, shares, gold and other valuable commodities in at least 20 countries.“The origin of the funds used to generate Ali Abdullah Saleh’s wealth is believed to be partly from his corrupt practices as president of Yemen, particularly relating to gas and oil contracts where he reportedly asked for money in exchange for granting companies exclusive rights to prospect for gas and oil in Yemen,” the experts said.

The panel of experts said in the report to the U.N. Security Council that Saleh, his family and associates allegedly stole money from a fuel subsidy program which uses up to 10 percent of Yemen’s GDP, as well as other ventures involving extortion, embezzlement and abuse of power. “The result of these illegal activities for private gain is estimated to have amounted to nearly $2 billion a year over the last three decades,” the panel said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 26, 2015, on page 1.

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