Last Updated: Sun Apr 08, 2012 08:40 am (KSA) 05:40 am (GMT)

U.S praises Yemeni president for political transition amid unrest

On Saturday, Yemeni air force officers shut down the airport in Sana’a, stopping all flights in protest at the sacking of their commander, a half-brother of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. (Reuters)
On Saturday, Yemeni air force officers shut down the airport in Sana’a, stopping all flights in protest at the sacking of their commander, a half-brother of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. (Reuters)

The United States on Saturday praised Yemen’s president for steps taken as part of the ongoing political transition even as the capital’s airport was shut down and tensions ran high in Sana’a.

“The United States welcomes President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s announcement of civilian and military personnel transfers as part of the ongoing political transition in Yemen,” State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner said.

“The changes signify the National Consensus Government’s commitment to fulfilling the aspirations of the Yemeni people and restoring stability to the country,” he added.

“In spite of those who seek to derail the transition, President Hadi has demonstrated strong leadership by steadfastly implementing the agreed-upon political settlement,” Toner added.

On Saturday, Yemeni air force officers shut down the capital’s airport 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.

Driving pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns, armed tribesmen along with troops in uniform blasted buildings of Sana’a International Airport and threatened to shoot down any aircraft taking off, Al Arabiya television reported yesterday, citing its correspondent.

The airport closure highlights the challenges facing Hadi, whose reshuffle is upsetting the entrenched interests of Saleh’s associates and those of General 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 war.

“Perfect harmony”

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 paralyzed 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 demilitarizing 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 sympathizers. 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.

In a February speech, President Hadi stressed the need to reunify the army as he pledged “radical reforms” and to fight al-Qaeda as he outlined a two-year transition plan.


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