Yemen’s president removed the commander of the elite Republican Guard, a powerful political foe, from the military on Wednesday, state television reported, in an apparent move to unify the divided armed forces under his own control.
The television read out orders by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi appointing Brigadier General Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is the son of Hadi’s predecessor, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.
Hadi has vowed to unify the army, which is divided between allies and opponents of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down in a Gulf-brokered deal in 2012 after a year of protests against his rule, but still looms large in Yemen.
Gulf neighbors and Western nations fear the wily leader’s continuing influence, not least through his powerful son, could tip a delicate political transition into chaos.
Dozens of youths gathered outside Hadi’s home in the capital Sanaa to show support for the decisions. “March, O Hadi, we are behind you until we achieve change,” they chanted.
“The orders effectively ended the divisions in the army and made all these forces under president Hadi’s control,” retired General Mohammed Sarei Shaye told Reuters.
“It is a strike by a master. It uprooted all centers of power in the army,” he added.
Political commentator Abdel-Bari Taher said the orders made Hadi “truly the president and sole decision maker of the army”.
Yemen stability priority for U.S., allies
Restoring stability in Yemen has become a priority for the United States and its Gulf allies, concerned about al Qaeda militants operating in a country that adjoins top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and overlooks major global shipping lanes.
The television said Hadi also had appointed General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the First Armored Division, as a presidential adviser for military affairs.
Ahmar is a rival of Ahmed Saleh and sided with his father’s opponents in the political crisis of 2011, backing activists who took to the streets demanding that President Saleh step down.
Ahmar’s forces and the Republican Guard occasionally had traded fire during the nearly year-long protests against Saleh’s rule. There was no immediate reaction from either man.
State television said Hadi’s orders also included appointing two of Saleh’s nephews, who had served in the Presidential Guard and the intelligence service, as military charges d’affaires in Ethiopia and Germany, in what appeared an attempt to remove any influence they might still wield despite having been removed from their posts last year.
The orders are the second main step in Hadi’s overhaul of the military, part of an internationally backed plan to restore stability to Yemen and widely seen as part of efforts to loosen the Saleh family’s grip on the armed forces.
In a first move, Hadi in December issued decrees that restructured the armed forces into four major units and abolished the Republican Guard and the First Armored Division. The December decrees said nothing about the roles of Ahmed Saleh and Mohsen.
In his December orders, Hadi gave himself direct control over some units separate from the Republican Guard that had also been under Ahmed’s command, including Special Forces and anti-terrorism units.
Hadi last month launched a conference of national reconciliation to try to prepare a new blueprint for what he called “right-guided governance”.
The conference, comprising all of Yemen’s main political forces, is expected to produce a draft of a new constitution and put proposals for addressing demands by southern leaders to restore the state which merged with North Yemen in 1990.
The power transfer deal, signed in Saudi Arabia, aims to hold the country together in the face of internal divisions and separatist movements as well as the challenge from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen.
Yemen president removes key officer in army shakeup