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Yemen Shiite rebel leader lashes out at Saudi Arabia; UN envoy meets with embattled president

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SANAA, Yemen — Yemen's Shiite rebel leader lashed out at Saudi Arabia on Thursday, accusing it of seeking to split the country following his group's power grab, as a U.N. envoy met the embattled Yemeni president who has fled the capital, Sanaa.

In a strongly worded speech, the leader of rebels known as the Houthis, Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, said Saudi Arabia and other international powers are pushing for a division of Yemen along sectarian lines.

The kingdom, which shares a long border with Yemen, has cut an economic lifeline to the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country since the Houthis seized Sanaa in September.

After the Shiite rebels declared they have taken over the country in January, Saudi Arabia and most Western countries closed their embassies.

PHOTO: Protesters march during an anti-Houthi demonstration in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. Arabic writing on a banner at bottom left that reads,"no to the coup." and the other banners read "yes to legitimacy, no to the coup." A group of oil-rich Arab Gulf countries threw their support behind Yemen's embattled president Wednesday as the group's chief visited Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in a southern port city he fled to amid the Shiite rebel power grab in the capital, Sanaa. (AP Photo/Nadia Abdullah)
Protesters march during an anti-Houthi demonstration in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. Arabic writing on a banner at bottom left that reads,"no to the coup." and the other banners read "yes to legitimacy, no to the coup." A group of oil-rich Arab Gulf countries threw their support behind Yemen's embattled president Wednesday as the group's chief visited Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in a southern port city he fled to amid the Shiite rebel power grab in the capital, Sanaa. (AP Photo/Nadia Abdullah)

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled to the city of Aden in southern Yemen, where he is setting up a presidential base and rallying supporters to his side. The rebels had placed Hadi and his Cabinet ministers under house arrest in January, but Hadi was able to flee earlier this month.

"Our elder sister, the Saudi kingdom, doesn't respect the Yemenis and wants to impose here in Yemen the sequence of events and divisions that happened in Libya," al-Houthi said.

Libya has been effectively split between two rival governments and parliaments after the capital, Tripoli, fell into the hands of Islamist-backed militias last summer. This forced the elected parliament and government to move to the far east of the country.

Hadi's aides, meanwhile, said he met with the U.N. envoy, Jamal Benomar, who has been struggling for months to resolve the crisis. The aides spoke about Thursday's meeting on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

The U.N. Security Council says Hadi remains Yemen's "legitimate president."

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