Tens of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets Thursday to demand dismissal of members of the country’s former regime from top military posts.
Rallies organized by youth groups were held in the capital, Sana’a, and several other cities. Protesters carried banners urging Yemen’s new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to “purge the army of family members” of his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
After a year of uprising and turmoil, Saleh handed power to Hadi in February, but several Saleh loyalists and relatives are hanging on to key military posts and refusing to step down.
Saleh has been accused of meddling in the country’s affairs and obstructing efforts by Hadi to carry out much-needed reforms.
The U.N. envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, has been meeting Saleh’s family members to try to persuade them to comply with Hadi’s orders. He said Thursday that a Saleh crony has finally agreed to hand over command of the elite Republican Guard.
Hadi has made restructuring the Yemeni armed forces his top priority, essential in combatting al-Qaeda forces in the south.
Islamic militants linked to the terror group have taken over several towns in the south during Yemen’s long political and security vacuum.
In the latest battle, the Defense Ministry said Thursday that eight al-Qaeda militants were killed in clashes in Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan province. The military has taken over several parts of the city, an al-Qaeda stronghold.
Saleh relative quits Yemen army
A nephew of former Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh has resigned from his post as commander of an elite military unit, officials said on Thursday, part of a drive by the country’s new U.S.-allied government to unite its army in order to fight al-Qaeda.
U.N. envoy Jamal Benomar told Reuters that Tariq Saleh, who earlier headed the Presidential Guard, had relinquished his new post as head of the 3rd Republican Guard brigade.
The unit is one of the strongest and best-equipped brigades in the military and overlooks the capital Sana’a.
“General Abdulrahman al-Halili has taken over from Tariq and is now fully in charge of the 3rd Brigade,” a senior Yemeni official said, confirming the resignation.
Defense Ministry officials said Tariq Saleh had retired and would not be taking other military posts.
His departure is a success for Hadi who has been trying to draw a line under more than a year of political turmoil in Yemen by distancing his predecessor’s relatives from power and restructuring the army.