Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen on Monday seized the country’s state news agency and television station, which an official claimed was "a step toward a coup," The Associated Press (AP) reported. The seizure follows clashes between the rebels and the Yemeni military near the presidential palace in the country’s capital Sanaa.
The violence began early Monday and witnesses to the incident said that heavy gunfire could be heard while mortars were thrown near the presidential palace, AP reported. A local news network for the Houthis reported that the Yemeni military had opened fire at them without reason. However, a Yemeni military official, told AP, on condition of anonymity, that the Houthis triggered the attack after reaching military positions and setting up their own checkpoints. Some people in the country also believe that ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been funding the Houthis.
"This is a step toward a coup and it is targeting the state's legitimacy," Information Minister Nadia Sakkaf told AP, adding that Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi had reached a ceasefire with the Houthi rebels.
Hadi was reportedly at his private residence instead of the palace when the attack took place. The attacks come a day after the president held a meeting with the rebel political advisers. Prime Minister Khaled Bahah's convoy was also attacked on the way to Hadi's home for a meeting with a Houthi representative, Sakkaf said. It wasn't clear whether the minister was wounded.
"Oh God! There are bodies on street, not too many, but still...," well-known Yemeni activist Hisham Al-Omeisy, said on Twitter, adding: “Hadi could've stopped Houthis in Amran.”
Houthis now control south of capital Sana'a #Yemen , took state TV & news..tell me how's that not coup..& heck is army still shelling for
— Hisham Al-Omeisy (@omeisy) January 19, 2015
According to a report by Al Jazeera, the situation in the country has remained tense since rebels kidnapped Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, chief of staff to the president, along with two of his guards, on Saturday.
Houthis, who demand more rights for the country’s Zaydi Shia Muslim sect, had signed a deal in September, according to which, they will withdraw from Sanaa after the formation of a new unity government. The rebel group, which has also launched many attacks against al Qaeda, is seen as an ally to the Shia Iran, according to Al Jazeera.