US ambassador to Yemen meets with country's embattled president in show of support

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SANAA, Yemen — The U.S. ambassador to Yemen visited the country's embattled president Monday in the southern port city of Aden, where Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has set up base after fleeing house arrest at the hands of Shiite rebels in the capital, Sanaa.

The visit reflected U.S. support for Hadi in his campaign against the rebels known as the Houthis, who in September overran Sanaa and in January declared they have taken over the country.

Ambassador Matthew Tueller was the first Western diplomat to visit Hadi since he fled Sanaa. As they took a walk around the presidential palace on Mt. al-Asheqeen overlooking Aden, Tueller told cameras Hadi is the "legitimate" leader of Yemen.

Arab Gulf ambassadors paid similar visits to Hadi in the past few days, pledging to open embassies in Aden after closing them in Sanaa following the rebel power grab. Hadi has also gained support from influential tribal and provincial leaders.

However, Russia, China, Iran and Oman have kept their embassies open in Sanaa — and Tehran has backed the Shiite Houthis.

On Sunday, a plane belonging to Iran's private airline Mahan Air landed in Sanaa with medical supplies and Red Crescent aid workers, a day after Houthi representatives signed an agreement in Tehran to set up 14 weekly flights between the two countries.

The Shiite Houthis' power grab, which began as a small insurgency in northern Yemen, has fanned fears of a sectarian conflict and full-blown civil war. Yemen's majority population is Sunni while the Shiite Zaydi sect represents a third of the nation.

The crisis has benefited Yemen's al-Qaida branch, which is considered by Washington to be the terror network's most dangerous offshoot and which has support among Yemen's disgruntled Sunni tribes.

It has also threatened the U.S. counter-terrorism operations in Yemen.

On Monday, several tribesmen reported that a U.S. drone strike killed two suspected al-Qaida militants in southern Shabwa province, in Markha area. An al-Qaida member denied the strike. Both the tribesmen and the al-Qaida member spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

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