SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen’s new Prime Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak quit his post early on Thursday hours after the Houthi militia called for mass protests against the “foreign interference” they said was behind his appointment.
Mubarak said in a post on Facebook just 33 hours after his appointment was announced by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi that he had turned down the post in his first meeting with presidential advisers.
He did not refer directly to the criticism of his appointment by the Houthis, who seized the capital last month, but said he was aware of the pressure Hadi was under and praised the president for his handling of the country’s political crisis.
Abdulmalik al-Houthi, the leader of the Shi‘ite Muslim Houthi militia, had used a televised speech on Wednesday to call for protests and warned they would be accompanied by other, unspecified measures to force Mubarak’s departure.
“I assert that together with these marches tomorrow, God willing there will be important steps that will contribute to correcting this mistake, which is an unacceptable mistake,” he said.
A government committee overseeing Yemen’s political transition said in a statement that President Hadi had accepted Mubarak’s resignation and that the Houthis had agreed in principle not to stage protests or escalate the situation further, the state news agency reported.
The United States and other Western and Gulf countries are worried that instability in Yemen could strengthen al Qaeda and have supported a political transition since 2012 led by Hadi.
In his speech, Houthi said Hadi had promised him he would not pick Mubarak, but then announced the appointment after meeting the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa.
“Unfortunately President Hadi worked with them as a puppet in their hands. We hope to change this stance,” he said in the 70-minute speech, which was peppered with rhetoric attacking foreign involvement in Yemen.
A U.S. official said the charge Washington had imposed Mubarak as prime minister on Hadi was “absurd” and said the choice had been a Yemeni decision.
“The important thing is for all Yemeni parties to support a way forward that rapidly implements the (Peace and National Partnership Agreement), respects the National Dialogue outcomes, and sets Yemen back on a path to security and stability,” said the official.
The Houthis, members of the Zaydi sect of Shi‘ite Islam that predominates in northern Yemen, had already rejected Mubarak’s appointment on Tuesday. Their leader’s remarks raised the prospect of a more forceful attempt to make Hadi choose a candidate they prefer.
Hadi’s announcement on Tuesday that he would appoint Mubarak followed his promise to reshape the government as part of a deal with the Houthis stemming from their takeover of the capital, Sanaa, on Sept. 21.
A senior Yemeni official told Reuters the Houthis had given Hadi a list of three names of candidates they would accept for the post.
Abdulmalik al-Houthi said he did not seek the appointment of a member of the Houthis as prime minister, but the wrangle over Hadi’s efforts to form a new government has become an important test of strength in Yemen’s political crisis.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mubarak’s appointment was also rejected by the General People’s Congress, the party of both Hadi and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced to step down in 2012 following mass street protests.
Hadi has since accused Saleh of using his continued influence to undermine both his presidency and an internationally sponsored transition toward democracy.
In a sign of his group’s attempts to position itself as a nation-wide political party with appeal beyond the northern Zaydi heartland, Houthi addressed much of his speech to the country’s south, where a separatist movement has gained pace.
“There is no north and no south,” he said in comments that played on what he said were shared aspirations of all Yemenis to rid the country of corruption and foreign interference.
Additional reporting by Sami Aboudi and Mostafa Hashem and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alison Williams, Frances Kerry and Lisa Shumaker