Saleh's military support fading as protests spread to previously loyal Republican Guard

Military leaders organise massive protests calling for the ruling family of Ali Abdullah Saleh to end its control over the country's security forces.

Anti-government protesters demand a trial for Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa yesterday. As Mr Saleh arrived in the US yesterday, seeking treatment for wounds sustained during an assassination attempt, a number of military units joined in protests against his rule.
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SANAA // Only days after Yemen's president left the country for medical treatment, military leaders organised massive protests calling for the ruling family of Ali Abdullah Saleh to end its control over the country's security forces.

Hundreds of Republican Guard troops demanding the overthrow of their commander, Mr Saleh's son, Ahmed, yesterday closed a road leading to the headquarters in Sanaa, calling for an uprising in the military.

Units loyal to the president later crushed the mutiny by the force's 4th Brigade, with an unspecified number of people injured, said a military official.

The Guard, with more than 120,000 fighters, was the backbone of Mr Saleh's regime during the anti-government demonstrations and marches last year that shook the country. Considered the best trained and armed security forces, they did not suffer significant defections to the opposition, as did regular military units.

"Ahmed headed the Republican Guards in less than 10 years. He reached his position through corruption and that will not last," said Abdul Kareem Salman, a Guard official in the capital.

Mr Saleh, who left for the United States on Saturday to seek treatment for injuries sustained in an assassination attempt last year, has handed over power to his deputy, Abed Mansour Hadi, paving the way for an early presidential election next month.

The demonstrations extended to Yemen's air force, where more than 70 per cent of the units have defected, according to Abdul Aziz Al Muhayya, deputy commander of operations at the air force who was involved in the demonstrations. The demontrators have called for the ouster of General Mohammed Saleh, the force's top commander and half brother of President Saleh.

"We vowed to protect the people of Yemen. However, this was not the case and we were forced to bombard and kill our own people," said Mohammed Sharabi, a pilot.

Organisers of the air force protests told The National that they are trying to weaken President Saleh's power base during his absence.

"It's now or never for us. Saleh is gone so let's weaken his ground," said Saleh Al Azazi, a 2nd lieutenant.

Demonstrations against the Saleh family also took place yesterday within the coastguard, the interior ministry, the navy, the military police, the central security forces, and the police academy.

Vice President Abed Mansour Hadi spoke on Saturday with President Saleh by phone, said aides in Mr Hadi's office.

"Vice President Hadi is currently in a critical situation," said the aide.

"Saleh realised that the opposition would use his absence in their favour and that is why protests are escalating in the military and army divisions," he said.

Opposition leaders deny any involvement in the military protests but said the demonstrations were expected.

"Youth and average people revolted against oppression last year, while a large portion of the military stood against them," said Mohammed Qahtan, a member of the opposition Islah party.

"The oppression of the ruling family forced them to switch sides in favour of the people and that is why the protests are now in most military departments," said Mr Qahtan.

President Saleh arrived yesterday at an unspecified location in the US, according to the country's foreign press office. His journey had taken him through Oman and London.

The one-line Yemeni statement said Mr Saleh was in the US for a "short-term private medical visit". His staff has said he is in the US to be treated for injuries suffered during the assassination attempt. He was burnt over much of his body and had shards of wood embedded in his chest by an explosion in his palace mosque as he prayed.

After months of unrest, Mr Saleh agreed in November to a deal, negotiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council, to end his 33-year-rule in exchange for immunity to prosecution. Hundreds of people died during crackdown on the protests, which began in January 2011.

Many ruling party members, lawmakers, cabinet ministers and, most importantly, powerful military generals and tribal leaders abandoned him, siding with the opposition.

It is unclear how long Mr Saleh intends to remain in the US. In a speech before he left Yemen for Oman a week ago, he promised to return home before the February 21 presidential election, but the US and its allies have pressured Mr Saleh to leave Yemen for good.

* With additional reports from Associated Press