In Yemen, top military commanders defect from Saleh regime
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's half-brother defected today, deploying troops to protect demonstrators. Friday's unprecedented violence led eight diplomats to resign.
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Controversy around Ahmar
At today's demonstration in Sanaa, crowds heaved armed and uniformed security forces onto their shoulders in celebration after Ahmar's announcement.Skip to next paragraph
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But the major general is a polarizing figure in Yemeni politics. He has been a close Saleh ally for years, leading military campaigns in the north against the Shiite Houthi movement, which have thrown their weight behind Yemen’s uprising.
“There are people in this movement that support the Houthis and do not accept Major General al-Ahmar,” says Salah al-Sharaty, a protester from the nearby province of Mahwuit. “They want to prosecute him for the crimes they feel he has committed during the wars in the north.”
Eight ambassadors, 13 lawmakers resign
The military defections come on the heels of a growing number of political resignations from Saleh’s ruling General People’s Congress Party in the wake of Friday's violence, when gunmen opened fire on thousands of demonstrators from rooftops around the demonstration area, killing at least 45.
In the three days since then, at least three acting ministers – including Huda al-Ban, Minister of Human Rights – resigned from the party in protest of the use of force, which many have attributed to Saleh's regime. At least 13 members of parliament have also resigned from the GPC.
In what many see as a response to the resignations, Saleh dissolved the cabinet on Sunday. The current government is set to remain in place until Saleh is able to form a new cabinet.
While many see the defections as the beginning of the end for Saleh, some demonstrators fear that the sudden influx of high-profile army members could threaten the outcome of the uprising.
“The timing of this announcement really took us by surprise. We weren’t expecting so much military support so soon,” says student leader Adel al-Surabi. “We need the support to the armed forces, but I’m afraid that this could lead to a military government.”
Saleh’s son, Ahmed, holds the highest military rank in the country as leader of the Republican Guard and Special Forces, while his four nephews head the country’s major military institutions. The possibility of violent conflict between the security forces will largely depend on the loyalty of Yemen’s rank-and-file to Saleh’s relatives, says Johnsen, speaking from Cairo.