Mar 3, 6:17 PM EST

Yemeni leader proposes Riyadh as venue for talks with rebels


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Yemeni leader proposes Riyadh as venue for talks with rebels

Hadi, once-quiet leader of Yemen, strikes newly defiant pose

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SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Yemen's president on Tuesday proposed the Saudi capital of Riyadh as a possible venue for the resumption of U.N.-sponsored talks with Shiite rebels who have seized Yemen's own capital, Sanaa.

Yemen is embroiled in a political crisis that threatens to split the country. The U.N.-mediated talks are aimed at breaking the political stalemate between the rebels known as the Houthis and Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The talks come at a time when Yemen's al-Qaida branch, considered by Washington the terror network's most dangerous offshoot, is stepping up attacks against the Shiite rebels in the central province of Bayda.

Around midday Tuesday, a suicide car bomber targeted the gate of a rebel compound in the city of Bayda, killing eight rebels and wounding 22. The attack was followed by a firefight between the rebels and several attackers.

Earlier, the Houthis also suffered heavy casualties in overnight clashes with al-Qaida elsewhere in Bayda province, according to security officials and residents. They said at least 25 rebels were killed in three different locations, along with at least seven militants. The officials and the residents spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the Yemeni branch is known, claimed responsibility for the attacks in postings on its Twitter accounts.

The U.N. Security Council council got a closed-door briefing late Tuesday from U.N. special envoy Jamal Benomar, who is trying to mediate an end to the crisis.

France's U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre, the current council president, said members again called for a quick political agreement and stressed that "the unity of Yemen is our strategic priority."

Hadi's offer of Riyadh as negotiations' venue came during a meeting with tribal leaders in Aden, where he has been based since fleeing house arrest in Sanaa last month, according to two participants and a presidential aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The two said Hadi offered the headquarters of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh as an alternative venue if the Houthi rebels continue to oppose moving the talks from Sanaa, which has been under their control since September, to either Aden or the city of Taiz, also in the south.

Yemen's U.N. Ambassador Khaled Alyemany said Benomar didn't announce a venue or time for the next round of talks. He called Riyadh "the best venue," adding "I think the Houthis will be willing to go anywhere Jamal Benomar will propose."

Hadi remains popular in the once-independent south Yemen, which is not under the control of the northern-based rebels.

The Iranian-backed Houthis are almost certain to reject moving the talks to Riyadh, given Saudi Arabia's opposition to their power grab in Yemen, the kingdom's southern neighbor.

The GCC comprises Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain. It was a GCC plan that forced Hadi's predecessor, longtime autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power following an Arab Spring-inspired uprising.

Hadi called for the relocation of embassies to Aden, as several GCC members have done already. U.S. ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller met with Hadi in Aden on Monday and said Hadi remained the "legitimate" leader of Yemen. The British ambassador made a similar visit Tuesday.

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Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer and Cara Anna contributed to this report from the United Nations

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