Sunday, April 8, 2012

Update/Yemen: Sana'a International Airport Reopens

Sana'a International Airport (SAH) reopened earlier today (April 8), a day after gunmen loyal to the nation's former president surrounded the airport and refused to permit aircraft to land or takeoff, after threatening to attack them.

Supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh attacked the airport on Saturday, with tanks and armored vehicles by occupying the tarmac. Their action followed a military shake-up in which key commanders loyal to Saleh were fired.

Saturday's assault on the airport involved armed tribesmen along with troops in uniform. Driving pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns, they fired at buildings at SAH and opened fire on one of the airport surveillance towers before surrounding the entire complex, blocking roads and turning away passenger vehicles.

The armed group left the airport Sunday morning even though Saleh's half brother, air force commander Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, was determined not to leave his office at the military wing of the airport despite being sacked by new president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

COMMENT: Saturday's attack highlighted the challenges facing President Hadi, who must balance a promise to purge ex-regime elements from the army with the ability of his predecessor's loyalists to cause massive disruption.

At stake is the stability of the Arab world's poorest country, where al-Qaida is poised to fill the vacuum.

The restructuring of the military announced by Hadi didn't touch Saleh's son Ahmed, who kept command of the well-equipped and powerful Republican Guard, or Saleh's nephew, Yahia, the head of the Central Security Forces.

Saleh was the fourth ruler to fall in the Arab Spring wave of revolts in the Middle East, stepping down in the face of protests under a US-backed pact brokered by Gulf Arab states. Under the deal, Saleh handed over power to Hadi, who was Saleh's vice president.

Yet, the deal permitted Saleh to remain as head of his party and keep half of his cabinet ministers in place. It did not stipulate that he must leave the country, giving rise to fears that he may someday try to return to power.

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