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Yemen rebel leader vows to attack

Yemen's Shiite rebel leader has escalated his attack against the country's embattled president, vowing to send fighters to the south where Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi has taken refuge.

The fiery speech came hours after his militia seized the third-largest city of Taiz, an important station in its advance.

Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, who is backed by supporters of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, said the mobilisation is aimed at fighting al Qaida and other militant groups, as well as forces loyal to Mr Hadi who are in the south intending to further destabilise Yemen.

In his one-hour speech on al-Masirah TV, Mr al-Houthi called Mr Hadi a "puppet" to international and regional powers who want to "import the Libyan model" to Yemen. He named the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar as conspirators against Yemen and other countries in the region.

Libya is torn by warring militias with rival parliaments on either end of the country claiming legitimacy and radicals from the Islamic State group taking root.

Yemen's turmoil has deepened since the Shiite rebel group, known as the Houthis, seized Sanaa in September, putting Mr Hadi under house arrest and eventually dissolving the country's parliament. They now control at least nine of the country's 21 provinces.

Mr Hadi, who is backed by the international community, fled to Aden - the country's second most important city and economic hub - declaring it a de-facto capital earlier this month.

The UN's special envoy for Yemen, Jamal Benomar, warned an emergency meeting of the Security Council that events were pushing the country "to the edge of civil war." Mr Benomar, appearing in a video briefing from Qatar, said "it would be an illusion" to think the Houthis could take control of the entire country, and he urged all parties to resolve the conflict peacefully.

The escalation began when forces loyal to Mr Saleh took over Taiz and its international airport. Security officials allied with Mr Hadi said the rebel forces were already mobilising tanks and fighters on the road from Taiz to neighbouring Lahj province, apparently on their way to Aden.

"The decision (to mobilise) aims to confront the criminal forces, al Qaida, and its partners and sisters, and all those who want to take cover in regions or using political pretexts," Mr al-Houthi said. He accused Mr Hadi of partnering with militant groups to destabilise Yemen.

Security officials said one person was killed and four wounded when rebel fighters opened fire on protesting crowds in Taiz against their advance in the city, which was known as a hotbed for protests against Mr Saleh in the beginning of 2011 that forced him to step down.

If the rebels hold on to Taiz, the capital of Yemen's most populous province, it would pose a major threat to Hadi in Aden, just 85 miles away.

The turmoil has undermined Yemen's ability to combat al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the target of a US drone programme, and the country now also faces a purported affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for a series of suicide bombings killing at least 137 people on Friday.

A day earlier, US troops evacuated a southern air base crucial to the drone programme after al Qaida militants seized a nearby city.

All these factors could push the Arab world's most impoverished country, united only in the 1990s, back toward civil war.

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