SANAA (Reuters) - Houthi fighters prevented Yemen’s new army chief from entering the defense ministry on Tuesday in a fresh show of power, a day after the Shi‘ite faction accused the president of promoting corruption and demanded that it oversee state funds.
The escalation of tension between Houthis who control the Yemeni capital Sanaa and Western-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi raises the prospect of open confrontation after months in which Hadi sought to appease the group.
Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, in a speech to tribal leaders late on Monday at his northern Saada stronghold, said Hadi was a leading player in the country’s corruption.
“During the popular revolution and the popular escalation, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was at the forefront of the forces of corruption,” he said, referring to anti-government protests led by the group before it captured the capital.
“The Yemeni people ... will not be indifferent forever”.
A senior aide at the president’s office said the speech showed the Houthis, who have penetrated state institutions since seizing Sanaa in September, were plotting to bring down Hadi’s administration and “complete their takeover of the state”.
“We expect that the group has prepared another plot similar to the one it had when it captured Sanaa,” the official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
Houthi said committees he had set up to oversee ministries since Sanaa’s fall had uncovered attempts by unidentified officials to conduct an inventory of state assets and to “divide billions” of rials among themselves in the process.
He also demanded that the 2015 state budget be subject to “close review” and that the government turn over control of state bodies to “rebels to monitor, follow up and ensure that people’s funds are not wasted.”
“Fighting corruption is a primary issue and there is no wavering from that,” he said.
Western powers have been worried about the volatile situation in Yemen, which shares a long border with oil giant Saudi Arabia, and which is also fighting al Qaeda militants and separatists in the south.
“Abdel-Malek al-Houthi’s speech points to an impending confrontation with the authorities. No one knows exactly where it may lead,” said Ali Saif, a Yemeni analyst.
On Tuesday, witnesses said Houthi fighters barred General Hussein Khairan, the army chief appointed by Hadi last week over Houthi objections, from entering his office.
They have friendly ties to Iran, the main Shi‘ite power in the region and foe of Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia. Their Shi‘ite Zaydi sect is related to Iran’s dominant sect.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari, Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by William Maclean and Dominic Evans