27 Mar 2015

President Hadi leaves Yemen

10:46 am on 27 March 2015

Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has travelled to Saudi Arabia, officials say.

It is the first confirmation of his whereabouts since Wednesday, when he fled rebel forces in the southern port city of of Aden.

President Hadi speaking to media in Aden on 21 March.

President Hadi speaking to media in Aden on 21 March. Photo: Pool / Yemeni Presidency Press Office / Anadolu Agency

Warplanes from Saudi Arabia and Arab allies are carrying out strikes against Shi'ite Houthis and allied army units who have taken over much of the country and seek to oust Hadi.

On Thursday evening jets resumed bombing the Houthi-held capital Sanaa, shaking whole neighbourhoods. Several civilians have been reported killed in Sanaa.

Residents and security officials said the second night of air strikes throughout Yemen targeted air and ground force bases loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose forces have bolstered the Houthi advance.

Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi said in a televised speech Yemenis would confront the "criminal, unjust and unjustified aggression" by Saudi Arabia.

Supporters of the Shi'ite Houthi movement in Sanaa.

Supporters of the Shi'ite Houthi movement in Sanaa. Photo: AFP

The Saudi-led military intervention marked a major escalation of the Yemen crisis, in which Iran supports the Shi'ite Muslim Houthis, and Sunni Muslim monarchies in the Gulf back Hadi and his fellow Sunnis in Yemen's south.

Iran denounced the surprise assault on the Houthis and demanded an immediate halt to Saudi-led military operations.

Mr Hadi's departure under Saudi protection from Aden, his embattled base since fleeing Sanaa in February, could be a turning point, Reuters reports.

Saudi state news showed pictures of the Yemeni leader smiling and holding hands with the Saudi defence minister receiving him at an airport in the capital Riyadh and said he would go on to Egypt to attend an Arab summit on Saturday.

It was far from certain whether Mr Hadi would be able to return to Aden.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs