Houthi rebels take over Yemen's Hodeidah port: residents

SANAA (Reuters) - The Shi’ite Muslim Houthi movement which seized Yemen’s capital Sanaa last month has extended its control to the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, deploying checkpoints and also taking control of the city’s airport, local officials said.

Shi'ite Houthi militants patrol the vicinity of a venue where a mass funeral for victims of a suicide attack on followers of the Shi'ite Houthi group was being held in Sanaa October 14, 2014. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Hodeidah is the second largest port in the impoverished Arabian peninsula nation after Aden, a southern city on the Gulf of Aden.

Residents in Hodeidah told Reuters the Houthis had sent forces to all the city’s entry points on Tuesday, including its airport, meeting little or no resistance from security forces.

The Houthis’ capture of the capital Sanaa on Sept. 21 stunned Yemenis, whose country has been gripped by political turmoil since mass protests in 2011 forced its long-serving president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to step down.

The Houthis, whose stronghold is in Yemen’s northern highlands, have imposed informal control of government ministries in Sanaa and have struck a power-sharing deal with President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and other political forces.

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Hadi named Yemen’s United Nations envoy, Khaled Bahah, as prime minister on Monday in a move welcomed by the Houthis, who have refused to leave Sanaa until a new government is formed.

Bahah is expected to name his government in the coming weeks.

Political analysts said the Houthi presence in Sanaa was eventually likely to disappear, with many of the fighters who entered Sanaa virtually unopposed set to be incorporated into the country’s military and security forces.

Yemen, where central authorities have struggled to keep control since 2011, also faces an al Qaeda insurgency and a separatist movement that aims to resurrect the socialist state in the south that merged with the northern half of the country in 1990.

The United States and other Western and Gulf countries are worried that continued instability in Yemen could strengthen al Qaeda. They have supported a U.N.-backed political transition since 2012 led by Hadi that is meant to shepherd Yemen to stability after decades of autocracy.

Reporting by Mohamed Ghobari; Editing by William Maclean and Gareth Jones