Official: Yemen leader mulls dismissing government

March 20, 2012 - 6:36 AM
Mideast Yemen

Defected Yemeni Army soldiers march during a festival to honor protesters killed one year ago in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, March 18, 2012. Yemeni government snipers firing from rooftops and houses shot into a crowd of tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators on Friday, March 18, 2011, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds demanding the ouster of the autocratic president. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen's new president is considering the dismissal of the country's national unity government because of what he sees as the meddling of his predecessor in its work, a senior official said on Tuesday.

The official told The Associated Press that President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was frustrated with the constant interference in the running of the country by Ali Abdullah Saleh, the nation's longtime leader who stepped down last month as part of a U.S.-backed pact put forward by Yemen's Gulf Arab neighbors to end a year of political turmoil.

Saleh was the fourth ruler to fall in the Arab Spring wave of revolts in the Mideast, stepping down in the face of protests after more than three decades in power. But while he's no longer president, he has effectively emerged as a parallel ruler.

His loyalists and relatives still hold powerful positions in government bodies and in the military, and officials who back the new government say he uses those levers to persistently undermine them — and in particular, to block attempts to clear Saleh loyalists out of the armed forces.

Hadi is under popular pressure to reform the military, whose demoralization under its current commanders has become clear following a wave of mutinies and a humiliating defeat earlier this month by al-Qaida fighters in the south.

Saleh's Congress party and several opposition groups are equal partners in the present government and the official said that Saleh's meddling is mostly done through Cabinet members belonging to his party.

The official, who is close to Hadi, said the president was particularly frustrated with Saleh's almost daily meetings with security and military officials.

The goal, Hadi's supporters fear, is to pave the way for Saleh to return to power by showing the new government is incapable of dealing with the country's multiple problems. Saleh has set up an office in the giant, extravagant Sanaa mosque that he built during his rule and that bears his name, just around the corner from the presidential palace. There he meets with his loyalists and powerful tribal leaders who back him.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said Hadi has set up a committee made up of senior politicians, including two from Saleh's party, to look into a more effective implementation of the pact that provided for Saleh's resignation.

A new government, he said, would include members of the Congress party who are not as close to Saleh and more likely to follow the spirit of the peace plan than the current ministers.

The United States hopes Hadi can reinvigorate the fight against the increasingly bold militants of al-Qaida, whom many Yemenis say Saleh's military waged only halfheartedly. Al-Qaida's branch in Yemen is seen by Washington as the most dangerous arm of the terror group after repeated attempts to carry out bombings on American soil. It only grew stronger during the past year's turmoil, when militants seized control of several towns in the south, including Zinjibar, a provincial capital.

U.S. officials say the Pentagon plans to assist Hadi with about $75 million for military training and equipment. After talks in Sanaa last month, President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, said Hadi was "committed to destroying al-Qaida."