Yemeni military base to be transformed into a public park

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A military base in Yemen’s capital Sanaa is being transformed into a public park based on a decree made by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in April.

The order is another step in Hadi’s overhaul of the military, which is part of an internationally backed plan to restore stability to Yemen and widely seen as part of efforts to loosen former president Ali Abdullah Saleh family’s grip on the armed forces.

The biggest contingent in the country’s military, First Armored Division (FAD), will be moved to outside the capital Sanaa after being used by the army for more than 40 years.

Hadi has vowed to unify the army, which is divided between allies and opponents of 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.

Sanaa’s local council started the construction work of the park, placing banners and pictures of those killed during the country’s uprising.

Residents of the area expressed their strong support to Hadi’s decree, seeing that it would help bring back stability to the area.

“This military area turned the life of civilians into a military life which escalated tensions in the heart of the city. But seeing that it will now be transformed into a park, this signals the return of peace and civil life,” said University Professor Abdulla Abdulkarim.

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 capital Sanaa should be free of bullets. All the military camps must get out of the city and be replaced by military police who can protect people. But having tanks and fighter jets in the heart of the city doesn’t make it a civil city but rather a tribal city,” said Yemeni activist Bassam al Atab.

The park will be named ‘March 21 Park’ which marks the date of when General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar defected during the uprising against Saleh.

Ahmar broke away from the Yemeni army shortly after street protests against Saleh’s 33-year-rule broke out early last year, and said his move was aimed at protecting demonstrators who had set up a protest camp in the center of the Yemeni capital.

The military base is located in the north-west of the capital, covering an estimated area of 200,000 square meters.

“We are very careful about ensuring that this park, with all its designs and components, becomes an inspiration for construction work and not just for leisure,” said Yemeni activist Waleed al Amari.

Hadi, who had been Saleh’s vice-president, was elected president unopposed in February under a U.S.-backed power transition plan brokered by Yemen’s Gulf neighbors to end the political upheaval.