Yemen in chaos as rebels take capital but stop short of ousting president

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Yemen, a major partner in the United States’ war on armed extremism, is in the midst of an apparent coup as Houthi fighters from the minority Shi’ite community took major state buildings in the capital, Sana’a on Tuesday after two days of fighting.

The group denies ousting President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, but with his office and private residence under rebel control, it seems clear power has changed hands.

Reuters reports: “The Houthis, friendly to Iran, swept into the capital four months ago and have emerged as the dominant force in the country. For now at least they appear to have decided to stop short of overthrowing Hadi, possibly preferring to exert control over a weakened leader rather than take on the burden of power.

“Their defeat of the presidential guards in gunbattles and artillery duels in recent days adds to disarray in a country where the United States is also carrying out drone strikes against one of the most powerful branches of al Qaeda.

“After clashes at the president's office and home on Tuesday, the Houthis' leader threatened in a speech overnight to take further ‘measures’ unless Hadi bows to his demand for constitutional changes that would increase Houthi power.

“By early morning on Wednesday, Houthi fighters, accompanied by an armored vehicle, had replaced the guards at the president's residence. Presidential guard sentry posts were initially empty, however a few guards later appeared and were permitted to take up positions.”

1. Soldiers shooting at militants beside armoured vehicles
2. Soldiers surrendering to militants
3. Militants in a pickup truck shooting at an SUV
4. Depiction of presidential residence; inset showing president in the building; militants firing mortar rounds from a rooftop

VOICEOVER (in English):

“Well armed rebel Houthi fighters in command of armoured vehicles fought with forces guarding the presidential palace in Sana’a’s south.”

“The rebels quickly overran the palace compound and replaced members of the presidential guard.”

“A US Embassy SUV was also fired upon, with apparent intent to kill, an embassy spokesperson told CNN. No one was injured.”

“In Sana’a’s east, Houthi gunmen attacked President Abd-Rabu Mansour Hadi’s residence. The president was inside at the time, but unharmed. The army said militants fired artillery from nearby rooftops.”

Bloomberg, Reuters, BBC, CNN