Yemenis rally to demand army shake-up

March 2, 2012 - 10:26 AM

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Massive crowds gathered across Yemen Friday, demanding that officers loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh be purged from the country's armed forces.

The demonstrations were the first since Saleh officially handed over power to his successor, in a move that was intended to bring peace after more than a year of violent protests against Saleh's longtime rule.

But while Saleh is out of office, many Yemenis worry that he will wield power through longtime allies in the military and well-placed family members such as his son and nephew who hold powerful security posts.

Demonstrators in 18 of the country's 21 provinces chanted "Restructuring the army is our top demand!" The chants were a reference to commitments made by incoming President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who vowed during his inaugural speech a little less than a week ago to shake up the military.

"Purge the army from the family," the protesters chanted in reference to Saleh's family members.

Saleh's son and nephew command the powerful Republican Guard and Central Security forces, which were used in trying to suppress the uprising against Saleh's rule over the past year.

Hadi took over from Saleh on Saturday as part of a U.S.-backed power-transfer deal aimed at ending the political turmoil. Hadi, who was Saleh's vice president, was the only candidate in the election.

He immediately moved to fulfill part of his inauguration pledge, and on Thursday removed the top commander of the southern region, Gen. Mahdi Maqoula, a Saleh loyalist.

Military officers have been demanding Maqoula's ouster, alleging him of hindering supplies to the armed forces in the south which are battling al-Qaida militants. Al-Qaida-linked militants have seized on the security vacuum and imposed control over towns and territory in the lawless south.

Hadi also named a new governor and police chief to the southern city of Aden.

The ousted president is still in Yemen, thought his aides said last week that he is planning to go into exile in Ethiopia.

Many fear that if he stays in Yemen he would incite riots by those calling for his prosecution. His opponents fear he would be able to exert control through his powerful network of well-placed family members and allies.