Saleh relative resigns as Yemen air force head

SANAA Tue Apr 24, 2012 4:44pm IST

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SANAA (Reuters) - A half-brother of former Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh has quit as air force commander, having previously refused to do so in a challenge to new President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, a U.N. envoy said on Tuesday.

"The handover has taken place as stated in the decree issued by the president," Jamal Benomar told reporters in Sanaa. "It was a smooth handover with no conditions whatsoever".

Hadi replaced nearly 20 officers this month, including air force chief Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, who besieged the capital's airport, grounding all flights, in protest at the decision.

Ahmar's capitulation is Hadi's first successful move to distance Saleh's relatives from power and restructure the armed forces, threatening the vested interests of Yemen's old guard.

Benomar, who helped push through the plan under which Saleh eventually left office after more than a year of popular unrest, persuaded the former president to secure his half-brother's compliance with Hadi's directive, a government official said.

"The U.N. envoy Jamal Benomar conducted negotiations to convince the former president of the need to implement the decree to remove his half brother from the leadership of the air force," said the official, on condition of anonymity.

Saleh's son, nephew and other allies remain in place as heads of important military units.

General Rashed Ali Nasser al-Jund replaces Saleh's half-brother as head of the air force. Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar has been made assistant to the defence minister.

Hadi, who had been Saleh's vice-president, was elected president unopposed in February under a U.S.-backed transition plan brokered by Yemen's wealthy Gulf neighbours.

(Reporting by Tom Finn and Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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