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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Houthis take over Yemen presidential palace

Houthi fighters have taken full control of Yemen's presidential palace in the capital Sanaa, ahead of an expected address by the Shia group's leader, after a brief clash with the compound's security guards, witnesses and security sources say.
The development came a day after the parties in the conflict said at two separate times they had agreed to a ceasefire.
The ceasefires were intended to pave the way for negotiations on Tuesday, still under way, between the opposing parties: the internationally backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the group.
Guards at the presidential palace housing the main office of Hadi said they handed over the compound to Houthi fighters after a brief clash on Tuesday.
Houthi leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, for years the chief negotiator for Shia Houthis, was due to give an address later on Tuesday. The son of a cleric, he is part of Zaidi Shia family from northwestern Yemen.
Earlier on Tuesday, Nadia Sakkaf, Yemen's information minister, said on Twitter the presidential palace was under attack despite the negotiations:

Sakkaf tweeted earlier that the president was under attack since 3pm local time:
Witnesses cited the by Reuters news agency said there was a brief clash between a Houthi unit and palace guards.
Witnesses also said they saw the Houthis seize armoured vehicles that had been guarding the entrances to the palace.
Khaled al-Hammadi, Al Jazeera's producer in Sanaa, said Houthi fighters had "taken over and controlled completely the presidential palace".
The commander of the presidential guard forces surrendered "the 3rd brigade of presidential guards to Houthi fighters without resistance and left the presidential palace", he said.
This brigade, he said, boasts at least 280 Russian late-model tanks.
Separately, Al Jazeera's Omar al Saleh, reporting from the southern city of Aden, said he had received reports that presidential guards outside Hadi's residence elsewhere in Sanaa had also come under attack from snipers.
He reported, quoting sources, that Hadi was safe but his residence was surrounded by Houthi fighters; it also appeared that Hadi was no longer in control and had run out of options.
Fierce battles
Our correspondent said Ali Abdullah Saleh, the long-serving president toppled after mass protests in 2012, still commands a lot of influence in Yemen.
Saleh wields clout in the military and among different tribes, he has cobbled together an alliance with the well-organised and well-armed Houthis - said to be backed by Iran - to strike at their common enemies, Al Jazeera's Saleh said.
It has since been confirmed that the only the presidential guard, loyal to Hadi, had fought against the Houthis in this latest round of fighting while the military and other forces had not participated.
"Ali Abdullah Saleh wants chaos in the capital and in the country to force a coup and pave the way for a new president, possibly his son, Ahmed al-Saleh."
Tuesday's developments came a day after some of the fiercest fighting in Sanaa in recent years, with the Houthis engaging in artillery battles with the army near the presidential palace and surrounding the prime minister's residence.
Nine people were killed and 90 wounded before a ceasefire came into force on Monday evening.
The UN Security Council is due to hold closed-door consultations on Tuesday on the worsening crisis in Yemen.
The meeting was requested by Britain following Monday's clashes.
Jamal Benomar, UN special envoy, is to report to the council on the latest developments.
Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from the UN headquarters in New York, said the Security Council would condemn the violence but was not likely to put forward "new ideas" about resolving the conflict.
Benomar told Al Jazeera the goal of the meeting would be to, in the least, release a statement affirming support for Hadi, and "making it clear that the international community will not tolerate the spoilers of the transitional government".
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Sanaa, Ferea al-Muslimi, a political analyst, said Hadi had been slow to pass reforms since coming to power, and that now he was completely "paralysed".
Yemen has been wracked by unrest for months, which raised fears of a collapse of Hadi's government, an ally in the US-led fight against al-Qaeda.
The Houthi rebels, who belong to the Shia sect, seized large parts of Sanaa in September and have since clashed with troops loyal to Hadi culminating in Tuesday's takeover of the presidential palace.

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