Yemen’s president close to being ousted

Bloomberg reports:

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh faced a growing internal revolt as some army leaders joined ministers and diplomats in abandoning his regime three days after it cracked down on protesters, killing dozens.

Military officers including Mohammed Ali Muhssein, commander of the eastern region, and Hamid al-Qushaibi, head of an armored brigade, have “announced their support for the revolution,” said Mohammed al-Sabri, an opposition leader. Dozens of army and internal security officials, including three generals, have joined protesters calling for an end to Saleh’s rule, Al Jazeera reported.

Tanks and military vehicles belonging to the Yemeni Republican Guard, headed by Saleh’s son Ahmed, were deployed around the presidential palace. Other army units took up positions around key government buildings and bank offices in the capital, Sana’a. Some soldiers have joined with the protesters in Taghyeer Square, the site of the March 18 killing of at least 46 people when police and pro-regime gunmen shot at a crowd of tens of thousands and snipers opened fire from rooftops.

Brian Whitaker writes:

The 32-year rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh appeared almost at an end on Monday as erstwhile stalwarts of his regime queued up to desert him and announce they were joining the opposition.

The writing had been on the wall since Friday, when 52 protesters in the capital were massacred by Saleh loyalists. Even by the violent standards of Yemeni politics, this was viewed by many as a shocking and unacceptable development.

A trickle of high-level resignations over the last few weeks turned to a flood on Monday when the president’s kinsman, General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, announced he was switching sides.

Ali Muhsin’s defection was the real tipping point. Because of his position in the military, it effectively means the end of the Saleh regime.

Whether that is grounds for celebration is another matter, since almost no one has a good word to say about Ali Muhsin. There were times when President Saleh used to frighten his critics by reminding them that if they didn’t like him they could always have Ali Muhsin instead.

In the past, Ali Muhsin has had questionable dealings with Yemeni jihadists, as well as the Houthi rebels in the north of the country. In 1998, for example, when the Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan (linked to al-Qaida) kidnapped a group of western tourists, one of the first phone calls made by the kidnappers’ leader was to Ali Muhsin.

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