Saturday, April 7, 2012

Forces loyal to ex-president Saleh shut down Sana'a airport

The airport in Yemen's capital was shut down on Saturday after forces loyal to a sacked general close to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh surrounded it and threatened to shoot down planes. The troops surrounding the airport were backed by members of the Hamdan tribe that supports former strongman Saleh.
The airport has been encircled by forces loyal to air force chief General Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, Saleh's half brother, who has refused to step down after being sacked by President Abed Rabbo Mansur Hadi. The men were led by Naji Jamaan, a Hamdan tribal chief. 
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi
Ahmar has refused to go unless the defence minister and other senior officials also leave, a military source said. In a message to his troops, Ahmar said Hadi's decree would not be implemented until Defence Minister Mohammed Nasser Ahmed, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar -- head of the First Armoured Brigade that protected anti-Saleh protesters last year in Sanaa -- and chief of staff Ali al-Ashwal left their posts. He also demanded that several members of the powerful Hashed tribe, which backed defectors during last year's anti-regime protests, be forced into exile.
In addition to Ahmar, Hadi also sacked on Friday Saleh' nephew, General Tareq Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, who heads the presidential guard. Tareq also refused to quit and had turned down an offer to command of the 37th Battalion of the Republican Guard in the southeastern province of Hadramawt.
Gulf Cooperation Council chief Abdullatif al-Zayani, who led mediation efforts to convince Saleh to step down, said the six-nation group "supports" Hadi and "backs all measures he takes to help Yemen exit its current crisis." Zayani also "urged all political power players in Yemen and all those involved to support the Yemeni president to move forward in implementing the principles stipulated by the Gulf Initiative." The initiative, under which Saleh resigned after 33 years in power in exchange for immunity from prosecution, includes a restructuring of the army as one of several conditions.
Saleh's son Ahmed still heads the elite Republican Guard, while a nephew, Yehya, commands central security services.

Last month Hadi named General Salem Ali Qatan to head the 31st Armoured Brigade in southern Yemen. He replaces General Mahdi Moqala, known for his close ties to Saleh and accused of corruption.
Two days later, Al-Qaeda militants attacked troops in the southern city of Zinjibar and killed 185 soldiers of them. Survivors accused some army leaders who had served under Saleh of "collaborating" in the attack.
Saleh retains the leadership of the General People's Congress, and aides have not ruled out his standing in a contested presidential election due to be held alongside new parliamentary polls in 2014.

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