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Yemeni president dismisses Cabinet to ease tension

By Ahmed Al-haj

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 2 2014 10:45 a.m. MDT

Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 2 2014 10:45 a.m. MDT

Yemeni Shiite protesters hold a poster of the group's leader Abdul-Malik al-Hawthi, center, as they chant slogans to demand the government to step down, while attending a demonstration in Sanaa, Yemen, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. Arabic writing on sign at right reads, "Allah is the greatest. Death to America. Death to Israel. A curse on the Jews. Victory to Islam." Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis rallied in the capital and across the country against an armed Shiite rebel group which has been holding its own sit-in demanding a new government and the reinstatement of fuel subsidies.

Hani Mohammed, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

SANAA, Yemen — The Yemeni president on Tuesday dismissed the Cabinet including the prime minister who led it for two years, while partially reversing an earlier decision to lift fuel subsidies in a bid to end a standoff with Shiite rebels holding anti-government protests across the country.

Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi made his decision during a meeting with the now outgoing government, representatives of political parties and parliament members, the official news agency SABA reported. The decisions came in response to an "initiative" submitted by a presidential committee formed by Hadi to examine peaceful resolutions for the Yemeni crisis.

"The nation is passing through tough times," the agency reported Hadi as saying during the meeting. "It is standing at a crossroads: either walk the path of life, development, and a new Yemen, or chaos, lawlessness and the unknown."

Hadi pledged to represent the interests of the Yemeni people as a whole and not privilege particular factions or groups. He said he would appoint a new prime minister within a week, after which political parties will nominate Cabinet ministers from their own ranks. Hadi will appoint defense, interior, finance and foreign ministers, SABA said.

Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Salam said his group rejected the move and would continue to pressure the government. "We are not giving in ... but we will also not shut the door to dialogue."

Faris al-Saqqaf, Hadi's political adviser, told The Associated Press the rebels, known as Hawthis, had surprised him by reacting in what he described as a harsh and swift manner.

"It shows that the Hawthis have other goals and are using the subsidies as a pretext to execute another agenda," he said. On Monday, Hadi alleged that there are "countries in the region that want to create chaos in Sanaa and burn it like Damascus and Baghdad are burning now" — a thinly veiled reference to Iran, which he says supports Hawthis.

Hadi's decision comes a day after Hawthi rebel leader Abdel-Malek al-Hawthi escalated the confrontation with Hadi by calling for civil disobedience against the government. He also urged the expansion of mass protests that have disrupted life in the capital for over two weeks. The rebels had been demanding the government to step down and also reinstate fuel subsides.

Fuel prices nearly doubled after the subsidy cuts, but the reaction on the street was limited when it was announced in July. Opponents say the Hawthis are using the issue as a cover and are really just want to seize power.

The Hawthis' ability to mobilize tens of thousands in the capital and set up sit-ins near several ministries has put security authorities on alert.

A senior Yemeni security official said that Hawthis are plotting a Ukrainian-style revolution in the capital and that they plan to storm the cabinet and parliament over the coming days.

The conflict between Hawthis and the government is rooted in enmity between the Shiite rebels and rival Sunni militias that are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood group and its political arm, the Islah party.

Hawthis recently defeated the Islamists after months of battle in the north, where they eventually took over the city of Amran. Critics view their current push on the government as an extension of that victory — opportunism using the subsidies issue as a pretext.

The Islah party is part of the government. Critics saw outgoing Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Bassindwa as week and too close to the party. The change of the prime minister is the first since the election of Hadi in 2012.

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