Arab foreign ministers have accused Yemen's Houthi militia of staging a "coup" against President Mansour Hadi. The rebels had seized the presidential palace after two days of battle with the government forces.
"The states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) consider what happened in Sanaa on Tuesday… a coup against the legitimate authority," the ministers said in a statement following an emergency meeting in the Saudi city of Riyadh on Wednesday.
The GCC also expressed its backing for President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's government and condemned "all measures aimed at imposing change by force." Hadi is a key US ally in the fight against al Qaeda.
On Tuesday, Shiite rebels entered the Yemeni presidential compound after a short but intense clash with the security guards. During the last few days, the capital Sanaa has seen the most intensive fighting in recent years, when the rebels and regular army exchanged artillery fire close to the presidential palace.
The Sunni-dominated GCC pledged to take "all measures necessary to protect their security, stability and vital interests in Yemen." The group added that they were ready to send an envoy to Sanaa for mediation - if the Houthis withdrew from the presidential palace and other key government buildings, and also freed Hadi's chief of staff, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak.
Meanwhile, former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh's party said on Wednesday that Saleh had advised Hadi a month ago to hold early elections to head off the impending unrest.
Saleh, who ruled the majority Sunni country for 33 years, was replaced by his then-deputy Hadi in November 2011 following a year of anti-government protests around the country.
Rebels release the prime minister
Yemeni cabinet spokesman Rajeh Badi confirmed Wednesday the rebels had allowed Prime Minister Khaled Bahah, who took office in October, to leave his besieged official residence after he reached "an understanding" with the insurgents.
"The prime minister will do his job from his house," Badi told Dubai-based broadcaster al-Arabiya.
Houthi members have also denied reports they were keeping the internationally-recognized President Hadi as a hostage.
"The gunmen are protecting the president against any attempt to harm him," Mohammed al-Bakheiti told the DPA news agency.
At least 35 people have been killed and 94 injured in the past two days in the capital Sanaa, according to the country's medical and security forces.
shs/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)