The former governor of Yemen’s southern port city of Aden, recently sacked by the president, said he formed a new “transitional political council of the south” on Thursday, after thousands of pro-secessionist Yemenis rallied in his support.
The ex-governor, Maj. Gen. Aidarous al-Zubaidi, has fallen out with the president but is close to the United Arab Emirates, a key member of a Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen since 2015.
However, relations between Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the UAE have been tense over allegations that the Emiratis are offering patronage to southern Yemeni politicians campaigning for secession as well as what the president perceives as UAE violations of his country’s sovereignty.
The new council, declared by al-Zubaidi at a speech in Aden, consists of 27 southern leaders including former Cabinet minister Hani Bin Braik, who had similar UAE-links and was also dismissed by Hadi.
The group does not, however, include prominent members of the Southern Movement, Yemen’s decade-old separatist organization, actors who have political weight and influence needed in the region.
At last week’s rally in Aden, thousands of southern separatists rallied in al-Zubaidi’s defense, issuing a statement they said authorized him to form a political entity to represent southern Yemenis. The demonstrators declared the ex-governor’s followers “legitimate representative of the people of the south” on regional and international levels.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman tried to intervene to calm tensions, meeting with Hadi last weekend to smooth things over between him and the UAE, Yemeni officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. It’s unclear if Salman made any progress.