The National Times - Yemen's Hadi cedes powers to new leadership council as peace talks beckon

Yemen's Hadi cedes powers to new leadership council as peace talks beckon

Yemen's Hadi cedes powers to new leadership council as peace talks beckon
Yemen's Hadi cedes powers to new leadership council as peace talks beckon

Yemen's president announced Thursday he is handing his powers to a new leadership council, in a major shake-up in the coalition battling Huthi rebels as a fragile ceasefire takes hold.

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"I irreversibly delegate to this presidential leadership council my full powers," Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi said in a televised statement early Thursday, the final day of Yemen talks held in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia said it welcomed Hadi's announcement and pledged $3 billion in aid and support for its war-torn neighbour, some of it to be paid by the United Arab Emirates.

Hadi's internationally recognised government has been locked in conflict with Iran-backed Huthi rebels who control the capital Sanaa and most of the north despite a Saudi-led military intervention launched in 2015.

A United Nations-brokered truce that took effect on Saturday -- the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan -- has offered a glimmer of hope in the conflict which has triggered what the UN describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The truce came as discussions on Yemen were unfolding in Riyadh without the participation of the Huthis, who refused to attend talks on "enemy" territory.

Some analysts had cast doubt on what the negotiations could achieve in the absence of the Huthis, but Thursday's news may help the sometimes fractious coalition battling the rebels to speak with one voice in any future peace negotiations.

Hadi also announced he had sacked Vice President Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar.

The new council will consist of eight members and be led by Rashad al-Alimi, a former interior minister and adviser to Hadi.

Hadi said it would be tasked with "negotiating with the Huthis for a permanent ceasefire".

He said it should also sit down for talks "to reach a final and comprehensive political solution that includes a transitional phase that will move Yemen from a state of war to a state of peace".

Hadi has been based in Saudi Arabia since fleeing to the kingdom in 2015 as rebel forces closed in on his last redoubt, the southern port city of Aden.

- A 'new page'? -

The formation of the council represents "the most consequential shift in the inner workings of the anti-Huthi bloc since the war began", Peter Salisbury, senior Yemen analyst for the International Crisis Group, said on Twitter.

But he cautioned that implementing the arrangement would be "complicated to say the least".

Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, met the council and said he hoped for a "new page" in Yemen, footage aired by state media showed.

Secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council Nayef al-Hajraf also welcomed Hadi's announcement, pledging the bloc's support for the new leadership council "in its tasks to achieve safety and security" in Yemen.

Yemen's 30 million people are in dire need of assistance.

A UN donors' conference this month raised less than a third of its $4.27 billion target, prompting dark warnings for a country where 80 percent of the population depends on aid.

As part of the truce, the Saudi-led coalition agreed to ease its longstanding air and sea blockade to allow commercial flights to fly into the rebel-held capital and fuel and more food shipments into the rebel-held port of Hodeida, an aid lifeline.

The UN special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, said Wednesday that there had been a "significant reduction of violence" since the truce took effect but both sides have accused each other of minor "breaches" of the ceasefire.