Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Houthi Rebels Remain In Place In Yemen's Capital Despite Deal

Houthi fighters guard outside the presidential palace in Sanaa, Yemen, on Thursday.
EPA /LANDOV
Houthi fighters guard outside the presidential palace in Sanaa, Yemen, on Thursday.

Shiite Houthi rebels remain positioned outside the residence of Yemen's president despite reports of a deal that would have seen them withdrawing in exchange for major concessions. Today's developments raises doubts about the scope of a solution to the unrest that has engulfed the U.S. ally.

As we reported Wednesday, the deal called for the Houthis to withdraw from parts of the capital, Sanaa, including President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's house, and to free his chief of staff, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, who was abducted over the weekend. In exchange, Hadi agreed to concessions. In the past, the Houthis have demanded that the constitution be amended, and their representation in parliament and state institutions expanded.

Witnesses and an Associated Press reporter said heavily armed rebels were stationed today outside Hadi's home, west of Sanaa. There also appeared to be no sign rebels had freed Mubarak.

We reported Wednesday on the background to this week's violence in Sanaa:

"The Houthis, who follow a strain of Shiite Islam that is close to the dominant Sunni strand of Islam, were created as a movement in 2004. They have called for greater autonomy for the north of Yemen and for the past year have pushed south toward the capital, capturing territory. The group is considered to be close to Iran. Last September, the Houthis reached Sanaa and took control of the city."

A politburo member for the Houthis, whose official name is Ansarullah, told Reuters the president's concessions were in line with a deal reached with his group in September.

"The latest agreement is a series of timed measures to implement the peace and partnership accord, which shows that Ansarullah were not planning to undermine the political process," politburo member Mohammed al-Bukhaiti told Reuters. "The agreement is satisfactory because it confirms what is most important in the partnership agreement."

He told Reuters the withdrawal of the gunmen and Mubarak's release could happen in the next three days if the authorities implement the agreement fully.

The unrest raises questions about the future of Yemen, a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism. The country is home to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, regarded as the most successful al-Qaida franchise. Although the Shiite Houthis are opposed to al-Qaida and are battling them across the country, the group is also opposed to the U.S. and is said to be backed by Iran.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.