Yemeni president's son purges rebellious officers

December 31, 2011 - 10:11 AM
Mideast Yemen

Protesters attend Friday prayers during a demonstration demanding the prosecution of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen, Friday, Dec. 30, 2011. Tens of thousands are demonstrating in Yemen, demanding that their longtime president be put on trial for the killing of hundreds of unarmed protesters since pro-democracy protests began 10 months ago. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — The son of Yemen's outgoing president is leading a crackdown to purge the Republican Guard, which he commands, of any rebellious officers found to be siding with anti-government protesters, a military official said Saturday.

The Republican Guard is a pillar of the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the attempts to ensure it remains loyal point to an effort to keep the regime from unraveling in the wake of a deal for Saleh to transfer power after 33 years as president.

His son, Ahmed, has had dozens of members of the powerful military force arrested so far, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The Republican Guard has helped Saleh maintain power despite 10 months of protests, intense international pressure and an assassination attempt in June that forced him to leave the country for medical treatment in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

The Guard, one of the best trained elements of Yemen's military, has not suffered a high number of defections like some other military units whose soldiers and commanders left to join the protest movement.

But with more frequent and serious acts of rebellion breaking out in other parts of the security services, the Guard's commanders are moving to prevent their ranks from doing the same.

The official said Ahmed warned at a Guard meeting over the past week against "copying" the actions of others. They are searching units, barracks, and have banned the use of cell phones inside the camp, the official said.

"We will not permit copying here. Force will be the way to deal with any protest," the official quoted Saleh's son as saying.

Some renegade units in other parts of the military have even locked their commanders out of military installations and demanded the removal of officers accused of corruption or involvement in the deadly crackdown on protesters.

In a significant concession, the defense minister ordered the removal of a longtime Saleh confident within the armed forces, Ali al-Shater, known as one of the regime's strongmen. Protests by subordinates accused al-Shater of corruption and using his connections with the president to illegally amass wealth.

Another sweep in search of rebellious soldiers took place within the ranks of the Central Security forces, led by Saleh's nephew, Yahia, according to a Central Security official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secretive nature of the security measures.

Hundreds of men in military uniform marched on Saturday through the southern city of Taiz, a center of the uprising, calling for trials of top commanders over the killings of unarmed protesters in the regime's crackdown

Labor protests have also swept Yemen since Saleh signed the power transfer deal last month. The deal, brokered by Yemen's neighbors on the Arabian Peninsula, grants him immunity from prosecution in return for stepping down.

He transferred power to his vice president and said he will leave the country and travel to the United States, though Washington has yet to say if he would be granted a visa.

The pact has failed to end street protests, however, because many still want to see Saleh stand trial.

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of protesters held demonstrations in the capital city of Sanaa and in several other cities and vowed to stop Saleh from leaving the country.