Tense transition in Yemen

Power sharing may have replaced revolution as the talk on the streets, but ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh remains a political force to be reckoned with.

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    If the last time you glanced at the news from Yemen there was talk of a youth-led revolution, then you could be forgiven for being confused.

    Talk of overthrowing a president has now been replaced with talk of "power sharing".

    The streets of Sanaa have been largely cleared of the countless checkpoints from late last year. Back then, guns were everywhere - government troops, renegade troops, pro-Saleh tribesmen, and what seemed like just about anyone with an AK47, lounged in street doorways or on the back of pick-up trucks.

    There are much less of them now, but some are still here. Un-uniformed men with automatic rifles loiter, betraying the truth of a peace deal that still hangs in the balance.

    In an unapologetically tribal country, which boasts over three guns per person, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh has been able to display some the best political manoeuvring in his 33 years of ruling the country - as the country threatened to tip into civil war last winter.

    Of course, he was eventually forced to sign the GCC-brokered deal in November to hand over power to his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, but managed to remain a huge force in Yemen's politics.

    That is what many see as causing the current crisis. Top positions in the military have been controlled by Saleh family members for years. Part of the GCC deal was that they would be phased out. But so far, they refuse to go.

    City under siege

    President Hadi fired Saleh's half brother - Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, the head of the air force - on April 6. The day after the announcement, Ahmar's troops surrounded the capital city Sanaa's airport and force it shut for a day.

    On Sunday, local reports claimed Hadi had given Ahmar 48 hours to hand over power gracefully or he would be arrested. He still resisted. Many in Sanaa held their breath, predicting a showdown.

    The UN envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, who brokered the GCC deal in November, arrived on Wednesday and immediately rushed to meet all parties.

    All parties these days still includes Saleh. Seven weeks after he handed over power, he still seems in a position to negotiate.

    Officially, claim his loyalists, that is because he remains head of the General People's Congress Party. Unofficially, many believe it is because he is pressuring his family members to hold their nerve, and refuse to step aside from their military positions.

    He may have stepped down as president, but with his family still holding the reigns in much of the country's enormous military, Saleh's involvement in Yemen's politics is far from over.


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