Yemen sinks into new crisis after rebels reject new PM

Yemeni security forces guard a checkpoint in the northwestern province of Omran, on June 9, 2014 (AFP Photo/Mohammed Huwais) (AFP/File)

Sanaa (AFP) - Yemeni Shiite rebels dug in their heels Wednesday after rejecting the newly named premier, stirring fears of further violence as Al-Qaeda and tribes accused security forces of favouring the insurgents.

With confusion reigning in rebel-controlled Sanaa, suspected militants with Al-Qaeda, which has vowed to battle the rebels, killed 10 policemen in central Yemen.

President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi late Tuesday named his chief of staff Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak as the new prime minister, after a UN-brokered peace deal agreed on September 21, the day the Huthi rebels overran the capital unopposed.

The accord provided for a rebel withdrawal from Sanaa once a neutral premier was named, for their disarmament and for the political transition to be revitalised.

But the rebels swiftly condemned Bin Mubarak's appointment as against the "will of the nation" and "at the behest of outside forces", an apparent reference to US and Saudi influence.

"This decision has violated all the principles agreed upon by all parties," the rebels, officially known as Ansarullah, said in a statement on Wednesday.

They said the move did not reflect a Yemeni agreement "as much as it was a foreign decision".

Hadi received the American and Saudi envoys shortly after he and his advisers discussed the overdue appointment of a new premier, an AFP correspondent said.

The rebel leader, Abdulmalik al-Huthi, has yet to comment on the nomination.

- Bin Mubarak 'never neutral' -

"Issues were not settled beforehand," one Western diplomat said on Wednesday, adding that the General People's Congress of ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh also rejected the appointment.

A GPC statement urged Hadi to reconsider the "non-consensual decision" and propose a "consensual alternative", accusing Bin Mubarak of "never being neutral or independent".

Five candidates had been shortlisted out of 21 candidates, before Hadi reduced the number to three during a meeting with seven advisers, including a rebel representative who left the gathering in protest.

A Hadi aide accused the rebels of rejecting the decision because "they do not want to keep their commitments" under the peace deal.

Since swooping on Sanaa, the rebels have been continuously tightening their grip on the city while also looking to expand their control eastwards to oilfields and to the strategic southwestern strait of Bab el-Mandab.

Foes of the Huthi rebels accuse them of taking orders from Iran and rejecting Bin Mubarak because of his political past as a student at Baghdad University, where he was in Saddam Hussein's Baath party.

- Iran's role downplayed -

However the Western diplomat downplayed Iran's role in shaping the Huthi position, arguing that "Tehran has other strategic priorities in the region".

The apparent Huthi strategy of seeking to exert gradual control of Yemen has sparked a strong reaction from Al-Qaeda which remains active in the south and east and taps the Sunni majority for recruits.

On Wednesday, suspected Al-Qaeda militants launched a wave of dawn attacks on police and the army in the central town of Baida, killing 10 policemen, officials said.

The attacks came after a meeting of tribal chiefs -- some with links to Al-Qaeda -- decided to "respond to the increased presence of Shiite Huthi rebels in Baida", an official said.

The heads of the Sunni Muslim tribes believe that members of the security services in Baida are sympathetic towards the Huthis.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which the United States considers to be the global jihadist network's most dangerous branch, has also vowed to fight the Huthis.

It had been hoped that last month's peace deal would restore security and also put Yemen's political transition back on track.

"The process of political transition should continue peacefully and President Hadi should keep his legitimacy," said the Western diplomat, stressing that the international community would not want to see the process collapse.

He insisted that Yemen was not at a political impasse, but did call the latest crisis a "damaging episode".