ADEN(Reuters), - Yemen’s president sought to resume his duties as head of state on Sunday, holding his first public engagement with state officials since he fled house arrest in Sanaa by the Houthi group that dominates the northern half of the country.
Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi convened governors of several southern provinces and military commanders at the presidential retreat in the economic hub of Aden, in a meeting which was broadcast on the city’s local television channel.
Hadi submitted his resignation last month after Shi‘ite Muslim Houthi fighters seized the presidential palace and held him under house arrest in the capital Sanaa in a power struggle that followed months of tension over a constitutional dispute.
But parliament never met to approve the resignation for it to go into effect as stipulated by Yemeni laws.
On Saturday Hadi appeared to rescind his resignation after he escaped from Sanaa, saying in a statement he was still president. Aden is firmly outside the control of the Houthis.
Hadi’s escape and resumption of his duties could complicate talks between major political parties in Sanaa on a new transitional administration.
His flight to Aden followed an agreement between Yemen’s rival factions on Friday, brokered by the United Nations, to set up a transitional council that keeps the parliament in place and gives a voice to some other groups.
U.N. envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, who is overseeing the talks, said Hadi reassured him in a telephone call on Sunday that he still supported dialogue to end the crisis but demanded they be moved to a neutral location outside the capital.
Hadi also re-affirmed his commitment to a 2011 Gulf-sponsored power transfer deal that allowed veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down following months of Arab Spring protests, according to sources at the meeting.
He also attacked the Houthis, who seized Sanaa in September and completed their takeover of the government last month.
“What is going on is a struggle for authority of the first order and not due to concern for the interests of the people,” one source quoted Hadi as telling the meeting.
He called for the release of Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and other government officials, who have also been kept under house arrest.
The Houthis have said their advance on Sanaa was intended to save Yemen from corruption and from being divided by a draft constitution calling for devolving power to local authorities.
The Houthis detained a nephew of Hadi who was serving the president’s security, his doctor and press secretary after he fled Sanaa, according to sources close to Hadi.
A member of the Houthi group’s Ansarullah politburo, Ali al-Qahoum, was quoted by the local news website al-Akhbar on Saturday as saying that it no longer mattered if Hadi remained in Sanaa or departed.
Western countries are worried that unrest in Yemen could create opportunities for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to plot more attacks against international targets.
Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo, Writing by Sami Aboudi, Editing by William Maclean and William Hardy