Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi named a top diplomat his new premier Monday in his second bid this month to solve a political crisis with Shiite rebels that sparked deadly unrest.
Hadi’s nomination of UN envoy Khalid Bahah appeared to have the consent of Huthi rebels, who seized control of much of the capital Sanaa in a lightning offensive last month.
The naming of a neutral prime minister is seen as a key step in convincing the rebels to withdraw from Sanaa, where their supporters were targeted in a devastating suicide bombing last Thursday that left 47 people dead.
State news agency Saba said a team of advisors to Hadi, which includes rebel representatives, had approved the nomination.
“After consultations over several nominees, all advisors nominated Khalid Mahfoudh Bahah,” it said.
A member of the rebels’ political arm, known as Ansarullah, confirmed the nomination had their consent.
“We approved the naming of candidate Khalid Bahah as prime minister,” Ali al-Imad told AFP.
Yemen has been wracked by political turmoil and sporadic violence since the 2012 toppling of strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, with rebels and militants battling to exploit a power vacuum and seize control of territory.
Since sweeping into the capital from their northern base on September 21, the Huthi rebels have established a strong presence, carrying out patrols and manning checkpoints.
Under a UN-sponsored ceasefire deal, they are to withdraw from Sanaa and disarm once a neutral prime minister is named.
A previous attempt to name a new premier collapsed last week under opposition from the rebels, with the candidate, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, withdrawing within 24 hours of being nominated.
REBELS PROMISE PULLOUT
A source close to the presidency said that with Bahah’s nomination the rebels have promised to end their military presence in the capital and dismantle camps they have built around it.
AFP could not immediately confirm this with a rebel source.
Their presence in the capital has exacerbated tensions in Yemen, where authorities also have to deal with southern secessionist aspirations and a bloody campaign by the country’s Al-Qaeda franchise.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is fiercely opposed to the Huthis, claiming responsibility for last week’s bombing in Sanaa and another suicide attack the same day that killed 20 soldiers in Hadramawt province.
Once Yemen’s ambassador to Canada and later the impoverished country’s minister of oil and minerals, Bahah became its envoy to the United Nations in August.
The rebel presence in the city has exasperated residents and twice since the takeover they have gone onto the streets to demand that the Huthis leave Sanaa.
Yemen has been without a prime minister since Mohamed Basindawa, who led a consensus government which the Shiite rebels accused of corruption, resigned when the Huthis seized government headquarters.
The Huthis, who complain of marginalisation by Sanaa, are concentrated in the mostly Shiite northern highlands in otherwise Sunni-majority Yemen.
Since storming into Sanaa, the rebels have been tightening their grip on the city while also looking to expand their control eastwards to oilfields and to the strategic southwestern strait of Bab el-Mandab.
Opponents accuse them of being backed by Iran in a similar fashion to its support for Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.
Chronic instability in Yemen has raised concerns that the country — next to oil-rich Saudi Arabia and key shipping routes in the Gulf of Aden — could become a failed state similar to Somalia.