The leader of Yemen’s Houthi fighters has defended the group’s overthrowing of the government, calling it a “glorious revolution” that has “broken the shackles of injustice and corruption”.
In his first public address since Friday’s coup, Abdel-Malik al-Houthi said the decision to install a new government and dissolve parliament was a “responsible act” taken in the “best interests of the country”.
“The Yemeni people have taken a giant step forward in their march towards freedom, dignity and independence,” Houthi said.
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Houthi blamed former president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, for creating chaos, and said he would confront all attempts at inciting sedition.
“Some political forces and collaborators, within and outside Yemen, have failed to understand that the Yemeni people are adamant they will achieve their legitimate, lawful, just demands to establish a dignified way of life,” Houthi added.
Houthi’s speech came as thousands of people rallied across the country.
Demonstrations erupted in the capital Sanaa, as well as the cities of Aden, Hodeida, Taiz, Dhamar, Ibb and al-Bayda.
Sources told Al Jazeera that at least 17 people were arrested at the Sanaa rally, after the Houthis reportedly fired live ammunition to disperse crowds.
Abdel Aziz bin Habtur, the governor of Aden, called the Houthi declaration “a plot against the constitution”, while in Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, protesters pitched tents outside a local government building.
The Houthis‘ political rivals, the Islah party rejected the “unilateral” initiative and called for it to be scrapped in favour of a return to political dialogue.
The Houthis, who have controlled the capital since September last year, said on Friday they would set up a 551-member national council to replace the dissolved parliament.
The Shia movement said a five-member presidential council would form a transitional government to run the country for the next two years.
According to its “constitutional declaration”, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a cousin of Abdel-Malik al-Houthi was declared the new president.
General Mahmud al-Subaihi, would chair a newly formed “security commission” to “lead the country’s affairs until the establishment of a presidential council”.
Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, reporting from Aden, said the announcement threatened to split an already divided country and would have ramifications throughout the region.
“Popularly speaking, the Houthis are a Shia minority, and there is a lot of opposition to them from the Sunni majority,” he said.
“Politically speaking, you have regions like Aden that have said they reject the Houthi takeover and will not accept orders from Sanaa.
Yemen’s south accounts for about 70 percent of the country’s production and groups in the region have been demanding a return to the full independence the south enjoyed from 1967 to 1990.
The Houthi takeover has drawn a strong rebuke from Washington, the UN and neighbouring Gulf states.
On Saturday, the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council said the coup endangered the “territorial integrity of Yemen”.
“The Houthi coup marks a grave and inacceptable escalation … and endangers the security, stability, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yemen,” it said in a statement.
The fall of Hadi’s Western-backed government raises fears of chaos engulfing Yemen, strategically located next to oil giant Saudi Arabia and on the key shipping route from the Suez Canal to the Gulf.