Most Yemeni parties agree presidential council

Most Yemeni factions have agreed to set up an interim presidential council to manage the country for up to one year, negotiators said Thursday, in a step to ease a power struggle that forced the president to step down two weeks ago.

The dominant Houthi movement had set a Wednesday deadline for political factions to agree a way out of the crisis that led to the resignation of President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi on Jan. 22. Otherwise, the group said, it would impose its own solution.

Delegates said that nine parties and groups, including a faction from the southern separatist Herak, agreed during negotiations in Sanaa on a five-member presidential council that would be headed by Ali Nasser Mohammad, a former president of South Yemen before the 1990 merger with North Yemen.

A source close to Mohammad confirmed consultations were under way with the ex-president but said they have yet to be finalized.

The Sunni Islamist Islah party was considering the agreement but the Yemen Socialist Party, which ruled the former South Yemen, said Thursday it had approved the council.

Yemen’s stability is particularly important to neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter. The Arabian Peninsula country is also fighting one of the most formidable branches of Al-Qaeda with the help of U.S. drone strikes.

The Houthis, Shiites backed by Iran, had said Wednesday night that they had put off acting alone as parties appeared close to a consensus on a way out of the standoff.

But even as a solution seemed within reach, Yemen’s deep divisions were as apparent as ever.

The editor-in-chief of independent newspaper Al-Akhbar Al-Yawm, which has been critical of the Houthis, told Reuters Thursday that its building had been taken over by armed men.

“Three cars full of armed Houthis seized the newspaper’s building and detained several editors and some employees inside,” Ibrahim Mujahid told Reuters by telephone. It was not yet clear what the Houthis’ demands were toward the newspaper.

Yemen has been in political limbo since Hadi and the government of Prime Minister Khaled Bahah resigned after the Houthis seized the presidential palace and confined the head of state to his residence in a struggle to tighten control.

The Houthis, who became power brokers when they overran Sanaa in September, had been holding talks with major political factions trying to agree on a way out of the standoff.