December 17, 2014 / 1:22 PM / 3 years ago

Yemeni premier suggests he could resign as Houthis tighten grip

Shi'ite Houthi rebels man a checkpoint in Sanaa December 11, 2014.Mohamed al-Sayaghi

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah on Wednesday suggested that his government could resign, expressing exasperation after Houthi rebels who control the capital Sanaa raided state institutions and sacked public officials.

The Houthis, who became the de facto power in Yemen when they captured Sanaa in September, portray their movement as a revolution against corruption and embezzlement which is emptying state coffers.

On Wednesday, they evicted a state oil company director and his deputy from their offices and stopped the manager of one of the main sea ports, tightening the group's grip on state institutions.

State news agency Saba reported Bahah as telling his weekly cabinet meeting that the government was ready to "withdraw if the other party was willing to shoulder the responsibility," apparently referring to the Houthis.

Bahah said he would not countenance bloodshed and could not tolerate "any project other than the constitutional and judicial project to administer the state," Saba reported.

Western powers are worried about the volatile situation in Yemen, which shares a long border with oil giant Saudi Arabia and is fighting al Qaeda militants and separatists rebels.

Westerns diplomats and Yemeni officials say the Houthis are getting support from former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was came under U.N. Security Council sanctions last month for threatening Yemen's peace and stability, something he denies.

Speaking about the rebels' raids on the port and the oil company, Sultan al-Atwani, an adviser to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, said: "It is clear that the Houthis, together with Ali Abdullah Saleh, are completing their (Sept.) 21 coup."

Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi on Tuesday accused Hadi of allowing corruption, and demanded he hand control of state bodies to the Houthis so they could ensure that "funds are not wasted".

Armed Houthis on Wednesday prevented the director of Hodeida port, Yemen's main Red Sea harbor where most of the country's food imports arrive, reaching his office, with a view to replacing him, port officials said.

"The staff were so angry that they walked out in a demonstration and closed off the port," one official said by telephone.

Separately, about 20 Houthi fighters broke into the state-run Safer oil company in Sanaa, kicked out the director and his deputy and locked their offices, company officials said.

The Houthis had already sacked four provincial governors, the editor of the main state newspaper, al-Thawra, and the commander of the special forces.

On Tuesday, Saleh loyalists held up a parliamentary meeting which was meant to confirm Bahah's government, demanding the reopening of offices belonging to their General People's Congress which they said had been shut by authorities in southern Yemen.

Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari, Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by William Maclean and Robin Pomeroy

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