News from Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Syria

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on January 27, 2015
Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi

Former Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi

YEMEN – U.S. allied President and cabinet resign

Sanaa — Yemen’s President resigned Thursday night [Jan. 22] shortly after his prime minister and the Cabinet stepped down: …just one day after the government and Houthi rebels struck a tentative peace deal meant to end days of turmoil.

The resignations of Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and other officials are the latest fallout from the Houthis’ move in recent days to gain power in the capital, which included kidnapping Hadi’s chief of staff on Saturday [Jan. 17] and taking over the presidential palace on Tuesday the 20th.

The chaos in Yemen is cause for concern far beyond the country’s borders. For the U.S. and its allies, Yemen’s government has been a key ally in the fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based group linked to attacks such as the recent slaughter at French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The United States responded by reducing embassy personnel in the capital because of security concerns, a senior State Department official said Thursday night. “While the embassy remains open and is continuing to operate, we may continue to re-align resources based on the situation on the ground,” the official said.

The Cabinet and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah resigned before Hadi did on Thursday night, with Bahah telling Hadi in a letter that they essentially wanted to wash their hands of “destructive political chaos,” an apparent reference to the deal that was to give Houthis more power.

Yemen-mapWe resigned “so that we are not made party to what is going on and what will happen,” Bahah wrote in the letter, which Yemeni Information Minister Nadia Sakkaf posted on Twitter.

Hadi’s resignation came soon afterward. It wasn’t immediately clear who would succeed Hadi.

The Houthis’ latest push to power then picked up steam on Saturday.

The Houthi rebels, Shiite Muslims who have long felt marginalized in the majority Sunni Muslim country, kidnapped presidential Chief of Staff Ahmed bin Mubarak in the capital, Sanaa, on Saturday (Jan. 17). The rebels then took over the presidential palace Tuesday the 20th, prompting talk of a coup.

The tentative deal reached Wednesday called for bin Mubarak’s release, as well as measures to give the Houthis more political power, according to a Yemeni official with access to a draft text of the agreement.

But by Thursday, before the top officials quit, Sakkaf questioned whether the rebels would live up to their side of the pact.

“Ahmed Mubarak is still #Houthis hostage despite deal. They got what they want why should they fulfill their promise?” she said on Twitter.

She added, “I have been following up the promises to release Dr. Ahmed bin Mubarak since the beginning. Conclusion: Buying time.”

SAUDI ARABIA – Obama among world leaders traveling to Saudi Arabia to pay tribute to late king

World leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande, gathered in Saudi Arabia over the weekend to pay their respects following the death of King Abdullah on Friday. A U.S. delegation, led by President Barack Obama, arrived on Tuesday (Jan. 27).

Great Britain's Prince Charles, left, offers Britain's condolences to the newly enthroned King Salman in Riyad.

Great Britain’s Prince Charles, left, offers Britain’s condolences to the newly enthroned King Salman in Riyad.

The BBC’s Jonny Dymond says the long list of dignitaries travelling to Riyadh is testament to Saudi Arabia’s global standing.

Iran is being represented by its Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. The UK’s Prince Charles, King Felipe VI of Spain and Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik were among the royals offering their condolences. Gulf leaders, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended the funeral held on the same day.

President Obama also called King Salman ahead of his visit to “personally express his sympathies” for the death of King Abdullah, the White House said. President Obama paid tribute to Abdullah as a leader who “was always candid and had the courage of his convictions.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised Abdullah’s work “to promote dialogue among the world’s faiths.”

However, human rights groups said Saudi Arabia’s human rights record had been dismal under Abdullah and urged Salman to do more to protect freedom of speech and women’s rights.

Amnesty International spokesman Neil Durkin described Abdullah’s human rights legacy as “disastrous,” saying that “endemic torture in police cells and in prisons” remained.

King Abdullah came to the throne in 2005 but had already been Saudi Arabia’s de-facto leader for 10 years because his predecessor, King Fahd, had been debilitated by a stroke.

Abdullah had suffered frequent bouts of ill health in recent years, and King Salman had recently taken on the ailing monarch’s responsibilities.

In Saudi terms, King Abdullah was a reformer, making princes pay their phone bills and giving women their first ever seats in the high-level consultative council. The new King Salman, a staunch conservative, has put paid to any thoughts of radical reforms on his watch with his first speech as monarch.

Saudi Arabia faces a number of challenges. The first is ensuring the succession passes smoothly. Then there is the ongoing threat from jihadists, both at home and across its borders – Saudi Arabia is sandwiched between the Islamic State (IS) group to the north and al-Qaeda in Yemen to the south.

The government has yet to find a way to cope with mild calls for reforms, and is abusing anti-terror laws to silence reformers and punish its critics.

Longer term, it faces a growing unemployment problem. About half the population is under 25 and there are not enough meaningful jobs for young Saudis.

But the country does at least have oil in its favor. Saudi Arabia is one of the very few exporting countries to still make big margins on production and exploration – putting it in a powerful position on the world stage.

SYRIA – Kurds push Islamic State out of Kobani after battle: monitor

Kurdish forces took control of the Syrian town of Kobani on Monday after driving out Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists, a monitoring group said, although Washington said the four-month battle was not yet over.

Kurdish fighters flew the flag of the Popular Protection Units on a hill overlooking Kobane on Monday

Kurdish fighters flew the flag of the Popular Protection Units on a hill overlooking Kobane on Monday

Some Islamic State supporters took to Twitter to say the fight for Kobani, a focal point of the international struggle against the ultra-hardline Islamist group, was still raging.

Islamist militants launched an assault on the predominantly Kurdish town last year, using heavy weapons seized in Iraq and forcing tens of thousands of locals into exile.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) had retaken the town, close to the Turkish border, but were proceeding carefully in the eastern outskirts where Islamic State had planted mines before fleeing.

“I can see the YPG flag flying over Kobani. There are the sounds of jets flying above,” said Tevfik Kanat, a Turkish Kurd who rushed to the border with hundreds of others, including refugees from Kobani, after hearing about the advance.

“People are dancing and singing, there are fireworks. Everyone feels a huge sense of relief,” he said by telephone.

The Islamic State still has fighters in hundreds of nearby villages, and called on supporters on Monday to target people in the West with whatever weapons they could lay their hands on.

U.S.-led forces have carried out almost daily air strikes on Islamic State positions around the town, a frontline in the battle against the group that has captured expanses of Iraq and Syria and proclaimed an Islamic caliphate.

The Pentagon said it could not declare the battle for Kobani over, but said the Kurds had the upper hand.

“I am not prepared to say the battle there is won. The battle continues. But as of now, friendly forces … I believe, have the momentum,” said spokesman Colonel Steve Warren.

U.S. and coalition forces launched 17 air strikes near Kobani since Sunday, the military said earlier.

Months of fighting in Kobani prompted Iraqi Kurdish forces known as peshmerga to travel to Syriato support the YPG after the United States asked Ankara to let them join the battle.

The struggle for Kobani is the only publicly declared example of U.S.-led forces closely coordinating militarily with a ground force to battle Islamic State.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at CNN on Jan. 23, BBC News on Jan. 24 and Reuters on Jan. 26.)


YEMEN - U.S. Embassy in Yemen to close to the public amid turmoil

from the CNN article above:


A largely Sunni Muslim people with their own language and culture, most Kurds live in the generally contiguous areas of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Syria – a mountainous region of southwest Asia generally known as Kurdistan (“Land of the Kurds”). Read more at:

from the Reuters article above: