Yemen leader moved to 'secure location' as rebels advance
ADEN - Agence France-Presse
Southern People's Resistance militants loyal to Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi are seen on a hill overlooking the al-Anad air base in the country's southern province of Lahej March 24, 2015. REUTERS PhotoYemen's leader was rushed to a "secure location" on Wednesday, a top aide said, as rebel forces bore down on his southern stronghold following clashes that sparked warnings of civil war.
The aide said President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi was taken to a safe haven "within Aden," denying that he had fled Yemen, a key ally in the US war on Al-Qaeda.
Earlier a source in the presidential guard said that the Western-backed leader had flown out of the country.
Hadi "boarded a helicopter from al-Maasheeq palace to an unknown destination abroad," the source said, before the aide insisted the president was still in the port city.
Aden residents were taking up arms at a weapons depot in preparation for a potential advance on the city by anti-government forces, a military source said.
The Huthi Shiite militia and their allies have seized large parts of Yemen and in recent days have been advancing on Aden, where Hadi fled after escaping house arrest in the capital Sanaa last month.
The Arabian Peninsula country has been gripped by growing turmoil since the Huthis launched a power takeover in Sanaa in February.
UN envoy Jamal Benomar warned on Sunday that Yemen was sliding towards a "civil war".
Hadi appealed to the UN Security Council on Tuesday to "shoulder its responsibilities... to safeguard Yemen from sliding into more chaos and destruction."
Rebel forces seized a key airbase just 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Aden on Wednesday, days after US military personnel were evacuated from the site.
Yemen has allowed Washington to wage a long-standing drone war against Al-Qaeda militants in the impoverished country, which borders oil-rich Saudi Arabia and lies close to key shipping routes.
The Huthis took control of Al-Anad airbase following "limited clashes" with forces loyal to Hadi, an official told AFP.
US military personnel stationed at Al-Anad were pulled out on Friday because of security concerns.
After seizing Al-Anad, anti-Hadi forces advanced farther south and were just three kilometres (nearly two miles) away from Huta, the capital of Lahj province which is adjacent to Aden, the military official said.
The Huthi militia, backed by troops allied to former strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, have clashed with pro-Hadi forces as they push towards Aden, leaving dozens dead.
Saleh, who resigned in 2012 following nationwide protests, has been accused of backing the Shiite militia as he seeks to regain influence.
Yemen is increasingly divided between a north controlled by the Huthis, allegedly backed by Iran, and a south dominated by Hadi supporters.
The UN Security Council, Western countries and Gulf Arab monarchies have backed Hadi as the country's legitimate ruler.
In a letter to the council Tuesday, Hadi called for a binding UN resolution asking countries to provide immediate support "by all means and measures to protect Yemen and deter the Huthi aggression expected to occur at any hour from now" in several strategic cities, including Aden.
He voiced concerns that Al-Qaeda will "seize the current instability to spark further chaos." He referred to an unspecified "missile capability looted from the legitimate authority," and asked the Security Council to take control of the missiles.
The Council has so far only released a declaration of support for Hadi, during an emergency meeting the president requested Sunday.
Diplomats on the council said no new meeting has been planned at this time.
Hadi said he had asked Gulf Cooperation Council members and other countries that belong to the Arab League to provide "immediate" support, including military intervention to help battle the Huthi militia.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal warned Monday that Arab countries may take action "to protect interests from Huthi aggression".
The turmoil has raised fears that extremists will exploit the security vacuum in a country already home to what Washington considers Al-Qaeda's deadliest offshoot.
The rival Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) jihadist group claimed its first attack in Yemen on Friday with suicide bombings against Huthi supporters that killed 142 people in the capital.