Dec 17, 8:12 AM EST

Yemen's Shiite rebels close port, storm newspaper


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SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Yemen's powerful Shiite rebels shut down a strategic Red Sea port on Wednesday, and stormed the offices of the country's main state newspaper, officials said.

The rebels, known as Houthis, closed Hodeida port, the second largest in Yemen, and prevented its director from entering his office, a port official said.

The port was seized by Houthis in October, a month after they swept through the capital, Sanaa. This month, they sacked the governor of Hodeida and replaced him with an ally.

The militiamen, empowered by supporters of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, have plunged Yemen into turmoil. President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has been severely weakened, despite a United Nations-brokered deal that was supposed to bring stability by boosting the Houthis' representation in the government.

A day before Hodeida was shuttered, the Information Ministry said that Houthi's overran the offices of the newspaper al-Thawra. The ministry called the action a "blatant assault" and a "grave violation of the freedom of the press."

Officials at the paper say that armed men raided the building and forced out Editor-in-Chief Faisal Makram, accusing him of corruption.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for their own safety.

The latest escalation comes days after Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi delivered a strongly worded speech that harshly criticized President Hadi. Al-Houthi on Monday accused Hadi of harboring al-Qaida and leaving the country infested with corruption.

Opponents of the Houthis, who belong to the Zaydi branch of Shiite Islam, accuse them of being a proxy for Shiite powerhouse Iran. On Wednesday, Hadi while receiving the credentials of the new Iranian ambassador in Yemen, was quoted as saying, "relations with Yemen should be through official channels ... not on the level of parties, groups or militias" in a clear reference to the Houthis.

In addition to the Houthis, Yemen is also facing a strong al-Qaida presence and a robust separatist movement in the south.

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