Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi resigned on Thursday, just days after Houthi rebels battled their way into his presidential palace, plunging the unstable Arab country deeper into chaos and depriving Washington of a key ally against al Qaeda.
Hadi, a former general, blamed the Houthis’ control of Sanaa for impeding his two-year-long attempt to steer Yemen toward stability after years of secessionist and tribal unrest, deepening poverty and US drone strikes on Islamist militants.
The announcement startled the Arabian Peninsula country of 25 million, where the Iran-backed Houthis emerged as the dominant faction by seizing the capital in September and dictating terms to a humiliated Hadi.
“This is a coup,” said Ahmed al-Fatesh, a hotel security supervisor, suggesting Hadi had been bullied from office. “The Houthis took power by force. Hadi is a legitimate president and was elected by more than 6 million Yemenis. Hadi tried to bring the political forces together.”
The Houthi movement said it had no official reaction as yet to Hadi’s resignation, but urged Yemenis to stage mass rallies to show their support on Friday afternoon.
A statement urged the army to “uphold” its responsibilities and called on Houthi fighters to be on alert.
Hadi, who has led a United Nations-mandated bid to make political reforms and bury the autocracy and graft of the past, stood down shortly after Prime Minister Khaled Bahah had offered his government’s resignation, saying it did not want to be dragged into “an unconstructive political maze”.
This was a reference to a standoff between Hadi and the Shi’ite Muslim Houthi movement which this week has been holding the president a virtual prisoner in his official residence.
“We apologize to you personally and to the honorable chamber and to the Yemeni people after we reached a dead end,” a government spokesman quoted Hadi’s resignation letter as saying.
It was addressed to the speaker of parliament, who becomes interim head of state under the Yemeni constitution.
Sultan al-Atwani, one of Hadi’s advisors, told Reuters he had resigned after pressure and threats from the Houthis. He also said parliament would meet on Saturday to decide whether to accept or reject it.
The official Saba news agency said there would be an emergency meeting of parliament on Sunday.
Late on Thursday, Houthi fighters took up positions around the parliament building, residents say.
In the southern city of Aden, unidentified gunmen attacked two military armored vehicles in the early hours of Friday, two local officials told Reuters. Three explosions were heard in Aden during the attack, which was followed by the clashes, said one of the officials, who declined to be identified.