Monday, 21 March 2011

Yemen: Government and military officials begin defecting

Several of Yemen's senior military officials have defected, others have voiced support for the anti-government protests calling for Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. The head of the north western military zone Maj Gen Ali Mohsen Saleh said he had deployed army units to protect the protesters. Among the most senior of the officers to defect is Maj Gen Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, a long-time confidant of Saleh and commander of the army's 1st Armoured Division.

A number of other officials including, Brigadier Hameed Al Koshebi, Brigadier Nasser Eljahori, Gen Ali Abdullaha Aliewa, rallied behind Maj Gen Saleh and defected. The move came a day after President Saleh dismissed the cabinet following news that at least 45 people were killed on Friday [18th March] by government related groups. Other resignations include those of Yemen's Ambassador to Syria Abdel-Wahhab Tawaf and the Ambassador to Japan.

Yemen's formal political opposition Joint Meetings Parties (JMP) expressed support for the military officials, and took to the streets on Saturday [19th March] in a show of support for the protesters. A spokeman for the group Mohammed Qahtan said: “President Ali Abdullah Saleh will now see that change is a must”. Asked whether the group would participate in the formation of new government, that Saleh is trying to put in place, Qahtan added: “It is not possible that the JMP will participate in the new government if Saleh is president.”

The US has expressed strong criticism over the way Saleh has handled the protests. President Barak Obama's top counter-terrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, reportedly telephoned Saleh on Sunday [20th March] to say that “any Yemeni government, no matter what its composition, must refrain from violence against protesters and support the right of the people of Yemen to engage in peaceful assembly…Any government must also support political change that meets the aspirations of the Yemeni people”.

Brennan also commended Saleh for ordering an investigation into the bloody clashes on Friday, and urged him “to follow through on that effort, and to ensure that anyone who has committed acts of violence is held accountable.”

Sources: New York Times, The Guardian, BBC News, FT

For more news and expert analysis about Yemen, please see Yemen Focus.

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