SANAA (Reuters) - Clashes broke out in Sanaa on Tuesday between Yemeni troops and about 200 members of the elite Republican Guards who surrounded the Defence Ministry in a direct challenge to a presidential reorganization of the military, an army source said.
Extra government troops had been sent to defend the ministry building and shooting began after the Republican Guard soldiers surrounded it, the source said.
Residents said they had seen armored vehicles in the area and heard heavy gunfire. "Gunshots were coming from everywhere, we don't know who is shooting at whom, the whole area is blocked," said Mohammed Ali, a taxi driver who was near the area when the fighting started.
"Fighting broke out between the forces that are securing the Defence Ministry and members of the Republican Guards," the army source said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Last week, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi transferred the command of some Republican Guards units to a newly formed force called the Presidential Protective Forces, under his authority. Other units were placed under a different regional command.
His aim was to curb the power of the Guards commander, Brigadier General Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is a son of ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and to stabilize a country where the former president's legacy still looms large.
The Guards members' action was a direct challenge to the authority of Hadi, and reflected the continuing turmoil in Yemen six months after Saleh stepped down to end months of protests against his 33-year rule and was replaced by Hadi, his deputy.
Hadi left Sanaa on Monday to attend a regional summit on Syria in Saudi Arabia.
The lawlessness in Yemen has alarmed both the United States and Saudi Arabia, Yemen's neighbor and the world's biggest oil exporter, which increasingly view the impoverished Arab state as a front line in their war on al Qaeda and its affiliates.
Washington, which has pursued a campaign of assassination by drone and missile against alleged al Qaeda targets in Yemen, backed a military offensive in May to recapture swathes of land seized by insurgents in the southern Abyan province last year.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; writing by Rania El Gamal; editing by Sami Aboudi and Tim Pearce)