Yemen's newly appointed prime minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak has turned down his nomination following strong opposition by Shiite rebels who overran Sanaa on September 21, state media said Thursday.
President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi has accepted Bin Mubarak's "request to be relieved" of forming a new government which is stipulated by a UN-brokered peace deal, Saba state news agency said.
Bin Mubarak took this decision "in a bid to preserve the national unity and protect the country from divisions," Saba said citing a letter sent by the PM-designate to Hadi.
In reaction, the Huthi rebels, officially known as Ansarullah, have agreed to cancel protests that they had earlier pledged to stage on Thursday, Saba said.
The rebels' leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi had reportedly called late Wednesday for protests in Sanaa against Hadi's choice for the premier's post.
Hadi had named his chief of staff Bin Mubarak as the new prime minister on Tuesday, as stipulated by the ceasefire agreement reached on the day the rebels overran the capital unopposed.
The accord provided for a rebel withdrawal from Sanaa once a neutral premier was named, for their disarmament and for the political transition to be revitalised.
But the rebels swiftly condemned Bin Mubarak's appointment, saying it is against the "will of the nation" and "at the behest of outside forces", an apparent reference to US and Saudi influence.
"This decision has violated all the principles agreed upon by all parties," the rebels said in a statement on Wednesday.
They said the move did not reflect a Yemeni agreement "as much as it was a foreign decision".
Hadi received the American and Saudi envoys shortly after he and his advisers discussed the overdue appointment of a new premier, an AFP correspondent said.
Five candidates had been shortlisted out of 21 candidates, before Hadi reduced the number to three during a meeting with seven advisers, including a rebel representative who left the gathering in protest.
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An aide to Hadi accused the rebels of rejecting the decision because "they do not want to keep their commitments" under the peace deal.
- 'Issues not settled' -
"Issues were not settled beforehand," one Western diplomat said on Wednesday, adding that the General People's Congress of ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh also rejected the appointment.
A GPC statement urged Hadi to reconsider the "non-consensual decision" and propose a "consensual alternative", accusing Bin Mubarak of "never being neutral or independent".
Since swooping on Sanaa, the rebels have been continuously tightening their grip on the city while also looking to expand their control eastwards to oilfields and to the strategic southwestern strait of Bab el-Mandab.
Foes of the Huthi rebels accuse them of taking orders from Iran and rejecting Bin Mubarak because of his political past as a student at Baghdad University, where he was in Saddam Hussein's Baath party.
Bin Mubarak has been Hadi's chief of staff for several months.
He was also secretary general of the national dialogue on a political transition following the 2012 resignation of veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh after a bloody year-long uprising.
Born in the southern port of Aden, Mubarak was one of the representatives in the dialogue of the Southern Movement, which seeks autonomy or secession for the formerly independent south.
The Huthis, who complain of marginalisation by the authorities in Sanaa, are concentrated in the northern highlands where Zaidi Shiites are a majority in otherwise Sunni-majority Yemen.
Last month's rapidly moving developments have added to instability in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation since the 2011 uprising forced Saleh from power.