By AHMED AL-HAJ
March 19, 2011
SANAA, Yemen -- Thousands of Yemeni airmen succeeded Monday in pressuring the country's new president to dismiss the commander of the air force, according to a statement by the group.
Low-ranking airmen went on strike for more than two months to press the demand. The decision to fire Maj. Gen. Mohammed Saleh, the half brother of the ousted president, can be seen as a significant win for the protest movement that swept through Yemen last year.
Yemen, the Arab world's most impoverished nation, was ruled for more than 33 years by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who appointed his relatives to top security posts. Many remain even after his removal.
The air force commander has held his post for more than 20 years.
Despite a year of protests that successfully pressured Saleh out of the presidency, demonstrators have continued to take to the streets to demand a wide overhaul of the regime.
The mutiny against the air force commander spread to four different provinces and a number of bases. Airmen also camped out for weeks near the president's home in the capital.
Col. Hashim el-Sameye said the new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, vowed to discharge Saleh within two weeks.
In response, the airmen ended their strike, but el-Sameye said they would protest again if Saleh is not replaced as promised.
The move to fire the air force commander comes as a military committee comprised of 14 opposition and loyalist generals reviews reforms for Yemen's security forces. The aim is to purge both the Defense and Interior Ministries of officials who committed crimes against protesters during the uprising.
Yemen's government said Sunday that more than 2,000 people were killed in the year of protests, a figure much higher than estimates by international rights groups. It was the first disclosure of a casualty figure by the government.