Last updated: 6 February, 2015

Yemen factions hold UN talks on political deadlock

Yemeni factions held UN-brokered talks late Thursday to try to fill a power vacuum left by the president and premier offering to resign last month as Shiite militia maintain their grip on the capital.

Representatives of the key political parties gathered around UN envoy Jamal Benomar a day after a deadline set by the Huthi militia, who forced the president’s resignation, expired.

The Huthis set a three-day deadline Sunday for the parties to resolve the power vacuum created by President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and Prime Minister Khalid Bahah offering to quit last month.

The militia warned that failure by the political parties to do so would prompt it and its allies to decide the future course of events.

But participants in Thursday’s talks said they finished for the night without any agreement, and that negotiations would resume on Saturday.

Negotiators indicated they had made little progress, following a four-hour meeting the previous day by representatives of several parties opposed to the Shiite Huthi militia that also broke up without success.

“The Yemeni political forces have suspended their discussions until Saturday in the absence of an agreement on Thursday,” one negotiator told AFP.

A socialist party delegate at the talks told AFP earlier Thursday that discussions focused on a plan to set up a transitional presidential council to help resolve the crisis, adding that parties were warming to the idea.

The source, who declined to be named, said talks were centring on the make-up of the council whose task would be to form “a government of national salvation and prepare, within a year, legislative and presidential elections”.

Benomar told reporters late Wednesday he would only accept “a peaceful solution based on dialogue and negotiations”.

The Huthis, who moved into Sanaa from their northern stronghold of Saada in September seeking a broader political partnership in running the country, seized the presidential palace and key government buildings on January 22, prompting Hadi and his premier to tender their resignations.

– ‘Revolutionary leadership’ –

The Huthi deadline was set in a statement issued at the end of a three-day meeting attended by the party of ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh but boycotted by the other major political movements.

The announcement that “the revolutionary leadership” would “take care of the situation of the state” if no solution to the crisis was found was loudly applauded by thousands who attended the forum, including tribal chiefs and officers in uniform.

The official Saba news agency reported that Benomar on Wednesday met the ambassadors of the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and Iran “as part of his efforts to resolve the crisis”.

Iran has long been accused of backing the Huthis, who descended from their base in Yemen’s north to overrun Sanaa.

Their opponents have staged demonstrations against the Huthis in several cities under the slogan: “Revolt until the overthrow of the coup” forces.

Benomar has said Hadi and his cabinet are effectively under house arrest, warning that violence could erupt at any time.

The crisis has raised fears that impoverished Yemen, neighbour to oil-rich Saudi Arabia, could become a failed state.

In another sign of their growing influence, on Thursday Huthi gunmen stormed the Sanaa offices of the independent newspaper Akhbar al-Youm, the daily’s director Seif al-Hadheri told AFP.

He said the gunmen were holding employees, but did not give further details.

Meanwhile five policemen were killed in separate attacks on Thursday, security sources said.

One policeman was killed by suspected Al-Qaeda militants in a drive-by shooting in the southeastern city of Shibam.

The other four were killed by gunmen in the southern city of Aden, with security sources blaming separatists for the attack.