Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi led a meeting of governors in the southern city of Aden Sunday as he resumed some of his duties after escaping house arrest in Sanaa.
The Western-backed leader fled to Aden on Saturday after sneaking out of his residence in the capital, where he was being held by a Shiite militia group that has seized control of the city.
The militiamen, known as Huthis, have installed a “presidential” council aimed at replacing Hadi, who after his escape declared all their measures “null and illegitimate”.
Hadi tendered his resignation last month under pressure from the Huthis but it was never approved by parliament.
On Sunday, he received the governors of various southern Yemeni provinces, Aden governor Abdulaziz bin Habtoor said.
“The president will keep up his political efforts to lead from Aden,” bin Habtoor told reporters after the meeting, which was also attended by army and security chiefs.
“His priority is to normalise the security situation in Aden in order to receive foreign delegates who have requested appointments to meet him,” he said.
As the meeting began, sources close to Hadi said that one of his relatives, Nasser Ahmed Mansour Hadi, was abducted by Huthi militiamen on Saturday as he tried to leave Sanaa to join his uncle.
The nephew, who was seized in the Yaslih region of southern Sanaa, was a member of Hadi’s cabinet, the sources said on Sunday.
Aden is jointly controlled by troops loyal to Hadi and an allied local militia known as the Popular Committees.
South Yemen is friendly territory for Hadi, himself a southerner, and local leaders have refused to recognise the authority of the council formed by the Huthis.
An aide to Hadi said the president used Sunday’s meeting to call for restarting a political transition process that stalled after the Huthis overran Sanaa in September.
“He underlined the need to implement the recommendations of the national dialogue” which include turning the republic into a federation of six regions, the aide said.
The Huthis, who hail from the northern Saada province where they fought the central government for a decade, have rejected the proposed division of regions in the federation plan.
On Saturday, Hadi called for the national commission overseeing the drafting of a new constitution to again convene, saying it should meet in Aden or Taez province until Sanaa “returns as a safe capital for all Yemenis”.
By escaping house arrest, “Hadi has regained the political initiative and stripped the Huthis of legitimacy,” said analyst Fahd Sultan of the Yemeni Political Reform organisation.
Talks sponsored by UN envoy Jamal Benomar in Sanaa to end the political deadlock, which stalled on Saturday following Hadi’s escape, resumed on Sunday evening.
Benomar had on Thursday announced a “breakthrough” in the talks.
But the pan-Arab Nasserist party said Sunday that the discussions are “no longer useful” and invited Hadi to “assume his duties as a head of state” — echoing several politicians and civil society groups .
Powerful tribes in the oil-rich province of Marib, east of Sanaa, went further, urging Hadi to declare Aden a “temporary capital of Yemen until Sanaa is liberated”.
“Hadi’s exit has turned the table on all parties, especially those involved in talks,” said political analyst Majed al-Modhaji.
It also “marks a change in the balance of power in favour of the state and at the expense of the Huthis,” according to Ibrahim Sharqieh, from the Brookings Institution in Doha.
He said that Hadi, elected by some seven million voters on February 21, 2012, “continues to represent the legitimate authority at home and internationally”.
The Huthis last month seized the presidential palace and besieged Hadi’s residence, prompting him to offer his resignation.
They have pushed their advance south and west into mainly Sunni areas of Yemen, where they have met with fierce resistance from tribesmen and Al-Qaeda.
The crisis has raised fears of Saudi neighbour Yemen — a key US ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda — collapsing into a failed state.