Air force officers ground flights at Sana'a airport
Sat Apr 7, 2012 4:24pm GMT
By Mohammed Ghobari
SANAA (Reuters) - Yemeni air force officers shut down the capital's airport
on Saturday, stopping all flights in protest at the sacking of their
commander, a half brother of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, an
aviation official said.
A source on the military committee overseeing the armed forces'
restructuring told Reuters the air force head, General Mohammed Saleh
al-Ahmar, had refused to leave his post unless General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar,
an opponent of Saleh, was also fired.
The airport closure was a direct challenge to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour
Hadi, who replaced Saleh earlier this year and is trying to push through a
restructuring of the armed forces to remove Saleh allies from key posts.
The armed forces split during the lengthy uprising against Saleh's rule,
with some units openly siding with protesters.
Military vehicles full of soldiers encircled Sana'a airport at dawn on
Saturday, turning passengers away and preventing flights from taking off or
landing, witnesses said.
Demonstrators demanding Saleh al-Ahmar's resignation brought several Yemeni
airports to a standstill earlier this year. Hadi dismissed him on Friday and
gave him the post of assistant to the defence minister.
The airport closure highlights the challenges facing Hadi, whose reshuffle
is upsetting the entrenched interests of Saleh's associates and those of
General Ali Mohsen, some of whose allies were also sacked on Friday.
Mohsen turned against Saleh early last year along with part of the armed
forces, sparking sporadic open combat on the streets of Sana'a with loyalist
troops and tribal militiamen that threatened to push the country into civil
Transport Minister Waed Abdullah Bathib told Qatar's state news agency
incoming flights had been diverted to the southern port city of Aden.
The reshuffle, which left Saleh's son and nephew in place as heads of key
military units, was welcomed by United Nations and Gulf diplomats who helped
hammer out the deal under which the former leader left office after months
of anti-government demonstrations that paralysed the impoverished state.
The diplomats said Hadi's move was in "perfect harmony" with the letter and
spirit of the power transfer plan, according to a statement cited by state
news agency Saba.
A committee responsible for demilitarising Sana'a was dismantling
checkpoints set up by the warring factions in the west of the city to
enforce the withdrawal of armed tribesmen and troops from the streets by the
end of the week.
Previous efforts to do this have failed.
Hadi faces a sectarian rebellion in north Yemen and an emboldened wing of al
Qaeda concentrated in the south, which is also home to a separatist movement
trying to revive a socialist state that Saleh united with the north in 1990.
Yemen's state news agency was hacked on Saturday, apparently by southern
secessionist sympathisers. Instead of the usual news feed, there were
pictures of southern leaders and the former state's flag.
"Your turn has come, all major Yemeni websites. If we do not see the
southern flag waving above Yemeni sites we will eventually destroy them,"
read a statement posted on the site.
Some southerners accuse northerners of usurping their resources and
discriminating against them. They want no part in the united Yemen envisaged
by the Gulf initiative.
(Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Tim Pearce)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Sat Apr 07 2012 - 13:05:47 EDT