SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen's president on Wednesday ordered a shake-up of the country's Defense Ministry, removing the powerful son, relatives and aides of the ousted leader, in a harsh blow to the ex-president's remaining ties to power.
According to Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's orders, the elite Republican Guard and Special Forces, which were commanded by ousted leader Ali Abdullah Saleh's son, Ahmed, merged under the ministry, effectively reducing Ahmed Saleh's power base. However, it was not clear whether Saleh's son will remain in the Defense Ministry or in what capacity.
Hadi also named a new commander to replace Saleh's nephew, Yahia, as head of the Central Security Forces and merged another unit headed by Yahia, the Anti-Terrorism Force, to the Defense Ministry.
Hadi also removed Saleh loyalists to from top positions in the ministry. One of them is the ousted president's brother Mohammed, who was among at least seven deputies of chief of staff to be dismissed. The positions were not listed in the new structure.
The decisions also merged one of Saleh's top foes, Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who defected last year to the mass uprising that called for Saleh's ouster and brought his First Armored Division to protect protesters, under the ministry.
Restructuring the army was a top demand by Yemenis after Saleh's ouster in February.
On Friday, thousands of Yemenis marched on city centers in the capital and across the country, demanding removal of Saleh's aides from key government and military positions.
Saleh is still in Yemen, and many blame him of behind the scenes maneuvering to stall the new leadership's reform efforts.
On Saturday, a military tribunal sentenced 93 soldiers and officers of the elite Republican Guard to three to seven year prison terms for resisting authorities and mutiny for trying to occupy the Defense Ministry in August.
The defendants were accused of firing at the ministry's guards. The firefight left one attacker, two ministry guards and two civilians dead.
On Monday, a committee of "National Dialogue" by representatives from different political forces and NGOs demanded that the president unify ranks of the army in order to be able to proceed with national reconciliation. That was one of the articles in the power-transfer deal backed by U.S. and brokered by neighboring Gulf countries, which eased Saleh out of power and paved the way for new elections.
A retired army brigadier, Mohsen Khosrouf, described Wednesday's moves as "the most important decisions" taken by Hadi and warned, "no one can resist these decisions because they are backed by international resolutions, and any challenge will be a challenge to international community."
The military took control of the south after battling al-Qaida militants who seized towns during the uprising. With U.S. support, the military managed to push al-Qaida militants out of their strongholds. Al-Qaida militants waged a wave of assassinations of top military officials in retaliation.
One of the bloodiest attacks against the Yemeni army took place on May 21, when a suicide bomber — who turned out to be a son of a colonel — blew himself up in the middle of a military rehearsal in the capital, Sanaa, killing around 100 soldiers.
In March, al-Qaida militants launched a surprise pre-dawn attack on a southern base while troops slept, killing 185 troops and capturing 73. The militants sprayed tents where soldiers were sleeping with gunfire. They dumped their bodies in the desert, some beheaded, and paraded dozens of captured soldiers through a nearby town.
On Wednesday, a top military intelligence official escaped death after assailants blew up an explosive planted in his car in Hadramawt in the south, according to a Yemeni security official.
Washington considers al-Qaida in Yemen as the militant group's most dangerous branch.