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YEMEN

Shiite militiamen seize Yemen presidential palace

Mohammed Huwais, AFP |A member of the Houthi movement poses with the remains of a rocket that landed on his house during fierce clashes between the militia and the presidential guard
2 min

Shiite militiamen on Tuesday seized the presidential palace in Yemen, a day after some of the worst battles in the capital in years, officials said.

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The Houthi fighters, who control the capital Saana, entered the compound housing President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi’s main office after a brief clash with security guards.

UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon told an emergency Security Council meeting that he was “gravely concerned” over reports of the apparent bid to overthrow Hadi, and urged "all sides to immediately cease all hostilities, exercise maximum restraint, and take the necessary steps to restore full authority to the legitimate government institutions."

Witnesses said the militia fighters also clashed with troops protecting the president’s residence, shelling the building after having seized several armoured vehicles parked in front of it.

Information Minister Nadia al-Sakkaf said Hadi’s residence was being attacked by “militias seeking to overthrow the ruling system”.

A government official reached by Reuters confirmed the president was still inside his home, but that “he is fine”.

The Houthis militia on Monday fought artillery battles with the army near the presidential palace, in some of the most intense fighting in Sanaa in years, and surrounded the prime minister’s residence.

Nine people were killed and 90 wounded before a ceasefire came into force on Monday evening.

On Saturday, Houthi rebels also kidnapped the leader’s chief of staff, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, shortly before he was due to present a draft of a contested new constitution that has angered the militia.

The new constitution would see Yemen divided into six federally-administered regions, which both the Houthis and southern separatists believe would weaken their power.

Yemen has been dogged by instability since the 2012 ouster of Ali Abdullah Saleh after a bloody year-long uprising, with the Houthis and al Qaeda seeking to fill the power vacuum.

The situation in Yemen turned more chaotic when the Houthis, who demand more rights for the country’s Zaydi Shiite Muslim sect, seized Sanaa in September and advanced into central and western parts of the country where Sunnis predominate.

Hadi's government has been a key ally of the United States, allowing Washington to carry out repeated drone attacks on al Qaeda militants in its territory.

Yemen's branch of the jihadist network, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is considered its most dangerous and has claimed responsibility for this month's attack in Paris on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo that left 12 dead.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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