Yemeni leaders, rebels sign ceasefire calling for new government

Houthi anti-government demonstrators protest in Sanaa, Yemen, on September 9, 2014.

Story highlights

  • Deal calls for a new, more transparent government
  • PM Basindwa resigns, says he doesn't want to be obstacle to peace
  • There have been protests, violence in the capital
  • More than 150 people have died in the past seven days, government official tells CNN
Yemen's president, a powerful rebel group and representatives of major political parties signed a ceasefire Sunday, the government announced.
"The document calls for an immediate ceasefire and ending all forms of violence," the written statement said. "It also calls for the formation of a technocratic national government, which will work to enhance government transparency, implement economic reforms, in addition to continuing military and security reforms."
The U.N.-brokered deal will end a month of tense protests by Houthis that essentially halted life in the Yemeni capital and resulted in hundreds of people being killed or injured.
The death toll over the last week in Sanaa exceeds 150, a senior Defense Ministry official said. Over the past 24 hours, at least 35 people have been killed, the majority of whom were government troops or Sanaa civilians.
The official said at least 900 people were injured over the past week.
On Sunday, hours before the sides agreed on the ceasefire, Houthi gunmen seized strategic military positions, including the Defense Ministry in Sanaa.
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The Interior Ministry ordered troops not to clash with Houthi militants. A senior Interior Ministry official explained that the government wanted no bloodshed, to ensure that the Houthis would sign the deal.
Basindwa steps down
Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Basindwa gave in to the militants' demands for changes in the government and resigned Sunday, saying he did so for the best of Yemen.
"I do not want to be an obstacle in front of any ceasefire deal that takes place between President Abdurabu Hadi and Ansarullah (the Houthi political faction)," said Basindwa in his resignation letter.
Senior Houthi leader Zakaria Al Shami told CNN the Houthis stand behind Hadi to continue to lead the nation.
"Ansarullah never called to oust President Hadi and will work with him to ensure Yemen goes forward after the formation of the new government," said Al Shami.
Houthi supporters have been rallying for almost a month, demanding that an approved oil subsidy reform be revoked and that the government step down. Until that happened, they said, they would not remove their tents from Sanaa and surrounding areas.
Rebel fighters enter capital
As progress in talks with the government slowed last week, Houthis, who follow the Zaidi sect of Islam, called thousands of their fighters to enter Sanaa.
Top military commander Ali Mohsen, who led the 2011 uprising against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, evacuated the 1st Division Brigade after hundreds of Houthi fighters raided the compound in northern Sanaa, backed by heavy artillery.
On Friday, dozens of Houthi militants attacked Yemen's state television headquarters with heavy artillery, burning down two main buildings, in an attempt to take over the premises. The headquarters, located in the northern region of Sanaa, has been one of numerous sites targeted by the fighters, who, as of Sunday, control the majority of districts in north Sanaa.
The government cut off all phone and Internet lines nationwide for 12 hours Friday morning, complicating communication between Houthi fighters.
Ansarullah spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam denied the Houthis started the attacks, saying the State TV area was used to launch rocket attacks on Houthi supporters three miles away.
"Hills in the vicinity of the State TV were used by government forces to attack our supporters in Jiraf district and we wanted to ensure that does not happen again," said Abdulsalam.