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Yemen PM rejects Houthi-proposed unity government

Ahmed bin Dagher said the removal of Houthi rebels from seized territory was 'non-negotiable'
Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher heads a cabinet meeting of Yemeni ministerial council held in the Saudi capital Riyadh (AFP)

Yemen's Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher on Wednesday rejected a unity government proposed by Houthi rebels whom he accused of bringing the country's economy to the brink of collapse.

At a cabinet meeting in the Saudi capital, Bin Dagher insisted the rebels surrender their weapons and withdraw from seized territory in line with a UN Security Council resolution adopted in April last year.

The Shia Houthi rebels and their allies overran the capital Sanaa in September 2014 and went on to seize control of several regions, forcing President Abd Rabbuh Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia.

Hadi appointed Bin Dagher in April, replacing his predecessor Khaled al-Bahah.

Riyadh formed a regional coalition that began air strikes against the rebels in March last year and later sent in ground forces to support Hadi's government.

"The retreat (of the rebels) from state institutions is non-negotiable," the premier said.

The meeting was held inside a Saudi government hall where Dagher read from a statement, with cabinet ministers seated at a long table in front of him.

At UN-brokered peace talks which began on 21 April in Kuwait, the rebels made a transitional government of consensus a precondition for applying Security Council Resolution 2216.

But the prime minister attacked "those who want a national unity government before handing over the weapons" which constitutionally belong in state hands.

He added that the country was "in a terrible state of economic and monetary collapse" after the rebels spent $3 billion, almost the entire monetary reserves of Yemen, "in their war efforts".

He said the rebels also arranged to print more money, leading to a collapse in the value of the rial and a spike in prices.

Residents say the cost of fruit and vegetables has risen by at least 20 percent in recent days, while essentials like flour are up by more than 30 percent.

On Tuesday, Yemen's exiled government threatened to quit the peace talks unless UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed can provide a written guarantee from the rebels that they recognise Resolution 2216 and the "legitimacy" of Hadi's administration.

Foreign Minister Abdulmalek al-Mikhlafi said his team will stay in Kuwait until the weekend and then take a decision.

A foreign diplomat told AFP he was "not optimistic", while raising the possibility of international pressure on the government to show greater flexibility over rebel disarmament and the transitional government proposal.

Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, on Wednesday called on the two sides to continue negotiating to "reach positive results".

Fighting has killed more than 6,400 people, displaced about 2.8 million and left 82 percent of Yemen's population in need of aid, the UN says.

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