April 8, 2012
SANAA--Yemen's main airport reopened on Sunday, a day after officers and tribesmen loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh forced it to close in protest at the sacking of the air force commander, a half-brother of Saleh.
The one-day showdown highlighted the continuing turmoil in the country despite a peace deal under which Saleh stood down after months of protests against his 33-year rule and was replaced in February by his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
In another sign of persistent violence in the country, local officials and tribal sources said rockets were fired, probably by a U.S. drone, at a suspected al-Qaida vehicle in central Shabwa province late on Saturday but missed their target.
As part of the agreement on Saleh's removal, Hadi had a mandate to restructure the armed forces to remove some commanders loyal to the former president.
His sacking of the air force commander, General Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, enraged Saleh loyalists, and the Sanaa airport blockade on Saturday was a direct challenge to his authority, showing how Saleh's family can still influence Yemeni politics.
The state news agency Saba reported that flights at Sanaa airport had resumed, citing the head of the aviation authority.
A government official told Reuters the airport has been reopened after pressure by the United States and Yemen's Gulf Arab neighbors, which had brokered the deal for Saleh to quit after months of demonstrations that paralyzed the country.
“(They) have told Saleh's relatives that Sanaa airport is a 'red line' and cannot be closed,” said the government official, who asked not to be named.
A source at Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) party, which shares power with opposition parties, said the GPC was meeting Gulf ambassadors on Sunday, demanding the removal of General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar as the price for accepting the air force commander's sacking. Once Saleh's right-hand man, Mohsen and troops under his command turned against the then president last year, sparking clashes with Saleh loyalists.
Friday's reshuffle, which left Saleh's son and nephew in place as heads of key military units, was welcomed by the United States.