Gunmen Seize Yemen President's Chief of Staff

Gunmen on Saturday seized Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi's chief of staff, whose nomination as prime minister last year was rejected by Shiite militiamen controlling the capital, an official said.

The Huthi militia, who overran Sanaa last September, are suspected of being behind the abduction of Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, the official added.

"An armed group set up a checkpoint in Hada," a southern district of Sanaa, and "captured Mubarak with his companions," the official from the national dialogue secretariat told Agence France Presse.

Mubarak is secretary general of the national dialogue set up to oversee the political transition following the 2012 resignation of veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh after a bloody year-long uprising.

He was "driven away to an unknown location," the official said, adding that the abductors "are suspected of being Huthi militiamen".

Yemen has been dogged by instability since Saleh's ouster, with the Huthis and Al-Qaeda seeking to fill the power vacuum.

Mubarak, a southerner, was one of the representatives in the dialogue of the Southern Movement, which seeks autonomy or secession for the formerly independent south.

Hadi named him as prime minister in October, but Mubarak turned down the job following strong opposition from the Huthis and from Saleh's General People's Congress party.

The Huthis are widely believed to be backed by Saleh.

The UN Security Council in November slapped sanctions -- including a visa ban and asset freeze -- on Saleh and two rebel commanders for threatening peace.

Mubarak's abduction comes a day after one of two Huthis Hadi appointed as presidential advisers late last year announced he was quitting because his advice had been spurned.

"I had done all I could in recent months to try to achieve reconciliation between the (Huthi) rebels, and the presidency and government, Saleh al-Sammad wote on his Facebook page on Friday.

"I tried offering the president and the government advice on the need to reassure the rebels by taking measures on the ground to build confidence that there is a serious attempt to build a state, fight corruption, and end political monopoly... but my advice fell on deaf ears."

Since their takeover of the capital, the Huthis have pressed their advance into mainly Sunni areas south of Sanaa, where they have met deadly resistance from armed Sunnis, including Al-Qaeda loyalists.

The turmoil has raised fears that Yemen, which neighbors oil-rich Saudi Arabia and lies on the key shipping route from the Suez Canal to the Gulf, may become a failed state similar to Somalia.

Hadi has struggled to assert his authority since the Huthi takeover of the capital.

On Monday, the Huthis released a top intelligence official they had held captive for more than two weeks after seizing him from his home in Sanaa.

General Yahia al-Marrani, the intelligence services' head of internal security, was set free following mediation by neighboring Oman, a security official said.

Some 20 Huthi gunmen had taken part in his abduction on December 25.

Source: Agence France Presse

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