Houthi militia leader describes Saleh's death as 'extraordinary and historic'

Supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh rally in Sana'a in March

Supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh rally in Sana'a in March

Saleh had previously been aligned with the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels before switching sides to an Saudi-led coalition in the country's blood-soaked civil war.

Without mentioning Saleh by name, he said that he knew about the ex-President's communication with the Saudis and his efforts to turn against the Houthis.

The rebel leader claimed many ordinary Yemenis were shocked by (Saleh's) calls for strife, combat, upsetting peace and security, and he says he tried in a fraternal and peaceful way to avoid the current conflict by talking (with Saleh). He also called for the resumption of all commercial imports into Yemen, saying millions of children, women and men were at risk of mass hunger, disease and death.

Saleh and the Shi'ite Muslim Houthis had made common cause against Hadi loyalists.

The United Nations said fighting and air strikes had intensified in Sanaa with roads blocked and tanks deployed on many streets, trapping civilians and halting delivery of vital aid including fuel to supply clean water.

The analyst noted that Saleh, with whom all of the party's power had been concentrated, had not assigned a successor.

Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al Houthi, meanwhile, hailed the death of his former ally, congratulating Yemenis "on this historic, exceptional and great day in which the conspiracy of betrayal and treason failed".

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"The problem is not with the General People's Congress as a party or with its members".

Mr Saleh, 75, who ruled Yemen for more than three decades, was overthrown in 2012 but joined forces with the Houthis three years later. After a short exile in Saudi Arabia he returned to the country, and continued to wield power from behind the scenes.

He said the Houthis have put a stop to a massive plot, which represented a serious threat to the country and to its stability and security, as well as the unity of its people, by handing it over to its enemies, after they had failed to capture it in almost three years of battle.

Saleh's statement was dubbed "deception" by the Houthis, who were in alliance with the former President.

"They stormed the TV channel and Al Yemen Al Youm newspaper headquarters and arrested some of my colleagues and started storming our residences", Al Yarrisi said.

Until recently, Saleh and the Houthis had been allies battling to regain control of the country from the internationally backed government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

"The decision by (Saleh's) General People's Congress to take the lead and their choice to side with their people will free Yemen of ... militias loyal to Iran", the coalition said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. "I chose to flee to Al Dhalaa province in the south of the country".

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