SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen's president fired the head of the country's special forces Monday following a botched attempt to disperse a sit-in of Shiite rebels that blocked the capital's airport road.
In presidential decrees, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi appointed Maj. Gen. Mohammed Ghadra, an Interior Ministry official, as the new head of the special forces. Its fired commander, Maj. Gen. Fadl al-Qoussi, was demoted to assistant to a deputy interior minister.
On Sunday, security forces tried to disperse the Shiite Hawthi group's expanding sit-in. Scores of protesters blocked the airport road and two main roads into the capital from the west and south. Security forces, using water cannons, tear gas and bulldozers, moved in to disperse the sit-in. But after an hour of clashes, security forces retreated and the rebel supporters held their ground. One person died from tear gas inhalation, hospital officials said.
A security official said the action against the protesters was "flustered" and the move didn't appear well coordinated with the government. Rebel leaders had criticized the decision to disperse their sit-in, calling the decision "foolish."
The rebel group has rallied tens of thousands of people in daily demonstrations for weeks. They want the president to fire the government and reinstate fuel subsidies. Despite a decision by Hadi to replace the current prime minister and dismiss the Cabinet, the rebels refused to budge, demanding a stronger role in the government's decision-making process.
On Monday, security officials said the rebel demonstrators expanded their sit-in on the airport road, advancing near the strategic Interior Ministry. The officials said roadblocks imposed by the rebels on routes leading to the city from Taiz and another province prevented security and military vehicles from entering the capital. Some tents were set up only meters (yards) away from government ministries, raising fears of an imminent confrontation.
Some Arab embassies, such as the Saudi Arabian Embassy, have evacuated its diplomats, officials said. The oil-rich kingdom and Yemen's northern neighbor is at odds with the Hawthi Shiite group, accusing it of serving an Iranian agenda.
In 2009, the Saudi military was drawn into rare fighting in northern Yemen, using airstrikes and artillery to battle a Hawthi rebellion that was spilling across its border.
The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists.