A ceasefire has halted intense clashes near the presidential palace in Yemen's capital Sanaa after Shia rebels seized control of state-run media in a move that one official called “a step toward a coup”.
The fighting, centred on the palace and a military area south of it, marked the biggest challenge yet to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi by the rebels, known as Houthis, who swept down from their northern strongholds last year and captured the capital in September.
The violence has plunged the Arab world's poorest country further into chaos and could complicate US efforts to battle al-Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate, which claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attack this month and which Washington has long viewed as the global network's most dangerous branch.
The Houthis are seen by their critics as a proxy of Shia Iran - charges they deny - and are believed to be allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, ousted in a 2012 deal after Arab Spring protests. They have vowed to eradicate al-Qaeda, but are also hostile to the US. Their slogan is "Death to Israel. Death to America".
The Houthis and forces loyal to Mr Hadi have been in a tense stand-off for months in the capital and the two sides traded blame for the outbreak of violence early today. Witnesses said heavy machine gun fire could be heard as artillery shells struck around the presidential palace. Civilians in the area fled as columns of black smoke rose over the palace and sirens wailed throughout the city.
Mr Hadi does not live at the palace, and extra soldiers and tanks deployed around his private residence, which is nearby.
The convoys of Yemen's prime minister and a top presidential adviser affiliated with the Houthis came under fire, while Houthi fighters took over Yemen state television and its official SABA news agency, information minister Nadia Sakkaf said.