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Yemen's president restructures armed forces

From Mohammed Jamjoom and Hakim Almasmari, CNN
December 20, 2012 -- Updated 1655 GMT (0055 HKT)
Yemeni president Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi.
Yemeni president Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yemen's president restructures the military to remove predecessor's allies
  • The nation's military will now have five branches; Defense Ministry takes over 2 groups
  • Activist calls the restructuring "a good step" but warns "it won't happen overnight."

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- Yemen's armed forces have a new look after President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi ordered major changes to both the military's leadership and structure on Wednesday.

The expansive reshuffle appears to have removed those loyal to Yemen's previous President Ali Abdullah Saleh from their powerful positions within the military, with several other generals attaining appointments to new positions.

As part of the restructuring, the elite republican guard and the first armored division will be absorbed into the country's Defense Ministry. The republican guard has been led by Saleh's eldest son, Ahmed Ali Saleh, and Gen. Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, who defected during the 2011 Yemeni uprising, has commanded the first armored division.

"General Ahmed Ali and Ali Mohsen are a headache for millions of Yemenis dreaming of a better country and a real national military," Farea Al-Muslimi, a Yemeni youth activist, told CNN.

"It's a good step, but it should have been done a long time ago ... It won't happen overnight," added Al-Muslimi. "It will need a few years for this to work out."

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"Yemen will head in the right direction with this restructuring of the armed forces and the ending of the contentious divisions in the military," said a Yemeni government official who was not authorized to speak to the media.

Yemen's military will now consist of five branches: Land Forces, Air Forces, Navy and Coastal Defense Forces, Border Guard, and the Strategic Reserve Forces, according to a news release from the Yemeni embassy in Washington.

The Land Forces command will oversee seven regional commands, and the Strategic Reserve Forces will include the recently established presidential protective brigades, the new missile defense command and the new special operations command, the release said.

A top presidential aide told CNN that the restructuring needed to take place quickly if Yemen was to go forward.

"We are working towards a unified army under a unified leadership, and this needs to take place now," the presidential aide said, asking to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The changes came as protests continued in front of Hadi's residence. Demonstrators said they wouldn't participate in the upcoming National Dialogue Conference unless Saleh's relatives and loyalists who hold key military and security posts are removed. Yemeni officials have been hoping all the political factions in the country would meet at the conference.

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Youth activists celebrated in Change Square on Wednesday, calling the latest decrees a clear victory for reformists and those seeking democracy.

"We support these decisive military decisions, and a major part of our demands have finally been accepted," said Khaled al-Anesi, a leading activist among the first to publicly call for restructuring the military.

"After the removal of Saleh aides, we will seek justice for those who were killed by the previous regime," he added.

Hadi took power in February as part of a Gulf Cooperation Council-backed deal that forced Saleh to trade his position for immunity after a year of political unrest destabilized the country. A United Nations envoy remains in Yemen to help with the transition.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom reported on this story from Beirut, Hakim Almasmari reported on this story from Sanaa, Yemen, and Mark Morgenstein wrote it in Atlanta.

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