Yemen's Hadi flees to Aden and says he is still president

SANAA/ADEN (Reuters) - Yemen’s ousted president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi appeared to rescind his resignation and attempt to reclaim his position in a statement on Saturday after escaping house arrest by the Houthi militia in the capital Sanaa and fleeing to Aden.

The statement, signed “president of the republic of Yemen” and read out on al-Jazeera news channel, was his first public comment since he resigned last month when the Houthis overran his private residence and the presidential palace.

The move throws down the gauntlet to the Shi’ite Muslim Houthis, whose capture of Sanaa on September 21 made them the country’s dominant power brokers and effective rulers, but who have clashed with opponents in other parts of the country.

Earlier on Saturday Houthi fighters shot dead a protester and wounded another in the city of Ibb demonstrating against the group’s takeover, activists told Reuters.

Describing the Houthi takeover of Sanaa as a “coup”, Hadi said all moves made since then, a period in which the Houthis forced him to accept a power sharing agreement and later dissolved the parliament and set up a new ruling council, were illegitimate.

A statement made by the Houthis on Saturday accused the ousted president of working for foreign interests and denied he had been held under house arrest.

Hadi fled his residence in disguise, Houthi politburo member Ali al-Qahoum was quoted as saying by the local news website al-Akhbar. But he added that it no longer mattered if the former president remained there or departed.

Hadi’s Sanaa residence was looted by Houthi militiamen after he left, witnesses said, but that was denied by Qahoum.

Hadi’s flight to Aden follows an agreement between Yemen’s rival factions on Friday, brokered by the United Nations, to set up a transitional council that keeps the parliament in place and gives a voice to some other groups.

The United Nations said reports by two senior political sources in Sanaa that it had helped Hadi travel to Aden were false.

In his statement, Hadi said he remained committed to a 2012 transition plan which aimed at moving to democracy from the decades-long rule of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was pressed to quit following street protests.

Hadi also said he wanted a new meeting of the country’s “national dialogue”, also part of the transition, which brought together the country’s regional, political and tribal factions to draft a new constitution.

Western countries are worried that unrest in Yemen could create opportunities for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to plot more attacks against international targets.

Late on Friday a drone destroyed a car carrying suspected members of AQAP in Shawbwa Province, a bastion of the militant group in the rugged mountains of southern Yemen, killing at least three people, residents said.

Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo, Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Stephen Powell