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Yemen PM resigns, Houthis seize government headquarters

Houthi rebels take control of strategic sites across the Yemeni capital amid reports of a 'slow motion military' coup
Yemen's Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa, who resigned Sunday citing President Hadi's 'autocracy' (AFP)

Yemen’s prime minister resigned on Sunday as Shiite Houthi rebels seized control of the government headquarters Sana'a, leaving a deal to end the country’s deepening political crisis in tatters.

Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa tendered his resignation on Sunday afternoon, amid ongoing battles across the city between Houthi rebels and forces allied to the government. In his resignation statement Basindawa accused President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi of being “autocratic” and failing to effectively deal with the current crisis.

In Sana'a Houthi rebels have now stormed the government headquarters, according to AFP, and are marching on strategic areas across the capital. A spokesperson for the rebels, Mohammed Abdulsalam, confirmed on his Facebook page that the government complex had been taken as well as the national radio building.

Al Jazeera English’s correspondent Mohammed Vall in Sana'a said a “slow motion military coup” is taking place and by the end of Sunday he expected the capital to be “fully in the hands of the Houthis”.

Vall said reports are spreading that the “invisible hand” of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is playing a role in the crisis, citing a “capitulation” by the army to the rebel group. MEE’s Tom Finn reported on Friday that many observers in the country believe Saleh has offered backing to the Houthis, against Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood party al-Islah.

Shelling and gunfire in the north of Sana'a was heard across the city on Sunday, as Sunni militiamen and troops battled the rebels prompting an exodus of terrified residents, an AFP correspondent reported.

April Longley Alley, a Yemen specialist with the International Crisis Group, told AFP that the Houthis are seeking a wider political partnership.  

"The Houthis want to be powerful decision makers at the national level with a share equal to, or possibly more than, their main political rivals Islah," said Alley of the powerful Sunni Reform party whose supporters are fighting alongside the army.

"The upper limits of what they (Houthis) think they can obtain has likely increased as they have won on the battlefield," she told AFP.

Developments in the capital would seem to have wiped away any hope of a UN brokered deal to end the crisis, which had been announced by envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar on Saturday.

Benomar said that Yemeni parties had reached a deal to end the confrontation and it would be signed on Sunday. He said that after "intense consultations with all the political parties, including (rebel movement) Ansarullah," a deal was ready to be signed but did not give further details about the agreement.   

On Saturday, Yemen's higher security committee imposed a nighttime curfew in several neighborhoods of northern Sana'a.  

The committee cited what it described as "security situation developments" and takeover by Shiite Houthi militants of the headquarters of the Yemeni state television in the capital for its decision.  

It said in a statement that the curfew would start from 9:00pm local time (18:00 GMT) and come to an end at 6:00am local time (03:00 GMT) every day from Saturday.  

Yemen state television returned on air late on Saturday, almost half an hour after it went off air following its takeover by Houthi militants.  

The television had to resume its broadcast from an alternative site, according to a television official, who refused to mention information about this alternative site.  

The Houthis have been staging mass protests since mid-August to demand the dismissal of Prime Minister Mohamed Basindawa's government and the reversal of a recent government decision to slash fuel subsidies.  

Demonstrations turned deadly earlier this month after protesters camped outside government buildings and blocked key roads in the capital to press their demands. Since then, army troops and Shiite Houthi militants have engaged in deadly fighting in several parts of the capital.  

President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi had already offered to sack the government, inviting the Houthis to take part in the formation of a unity government. He also offered to reduce fuel prices.  

According to Hadi's proposal, however, the president would retain the right to directly appoint the ministers of "strategic" government portfolios (interior, defense and foreign affairs).  

The Houthis, for their part, rejected Hadi's offer and vowed to escalate protests further.  

Yemen has been dogged by unrest since a popular uprising that began in 2011 ousted longstanding president Ali Abdullah Saleh one year later.

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