March 1, 2015 / 3:38 PM / 5 years ago

Yemen's Hadi says Saleh conspired with Iran to undermine power transfer deal

ADEN (Reuters) - President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi accused his predecessor on Sunday of conspiring with Iran to scuttle a 2011 deal backed by Gulf states to transfer power to him in cooperation with the Shi’ite Muslim Houthi group.

People are reflected in framed portraits of Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi (L) and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in downtown Sanaa October 8, 2014. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Hadi, who assumed office in 2012 after Ali Abdullah Saleh resigned following months of protests against his 33-year rule, fled to the southern port city of Aden last month after the Houthis battled their way to the presidential palace.

He told tribal leaders, heads of political parties and other figures at a meeting in Aden that Saleh, who heads the General People’s Congress party, the biggest bloc in parliament, had sent a parliamentary delegation to Iran to coordinate efforts to undermine the power transfer deal.

“Hadi said that this alliance between Saleh and the Houthis, in coordination with Iran, was behind the fall of Sanaa on Sept. 21 to the Houthi militias,” a source at the meeting told Reuters. “No, the historic city (Sanaa) has become an occupied capital,” he added.

The United Nations Security Council last year accused Saleh of working with the Houthis to destabilize Yemen and imposed targeted sanctions on him and two senior Houthi leaders for threatening the peace and stability of the country.

Hadi has denied the charges.

Stability in Yemen, which shares a long border with the world’s top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, is important for the West. The impoverished country of 25 million has emerged as another frontline in a regional tussle for influence between rival powers Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The Houthis, who control much of the northern half of the country and run government ministries in Sanaa, on Saturday signed a civil aviation deal with Iran under which they will operate 14 flights a week in both directions, the Houthi-run state news agency said.

The first flight arrived in Sanaa on Sunday, and a delegation headed by one of the group’s top leaders flew to Tehran heading an economic delegation to discuss cooperation between the two countries, the Houthi-run Saba news agency said.

The power struggle between the Muslim Shi’ite Houthis in Sanaa and Hadi in Aden casts more doubt on United Nations-sponsored talks to resolve Yemen’s crisis peacefully, and exacerbates sectarian and regional splits which may plunge the country into civil war.

Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden, Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa, writing by Sami Aboudi; editing by Ralph Boulton

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