A nephew of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former Yemeni president, has resigned from his post as commander of an elite military unit, officials have said.

Tariq Saleh's resignation on Thursday came amid demonstrations organised by youth groups in the capital, Sanaa, and several other cities.

UN envoy Jamal Benomar told the Reuters news agency that Tariq Saleh had relinquished his new post as head of the 3rd Republican Guard brigade, one of the strongest and best-equipped brigades in the military.

"General Abdulrahman al-Halili has taken over from Tariq and is now fully in charge of the 3rd Brigade," a senior Yemeni
official said, confirming the resignation.

Defence Ministry officials said Tariq Saleh, who previously served as the head of the Presidential Guard, had retired and would not be taking other military posts.

The former president has been accused of meddling in the affairs of the Yemeni state, even after having handed over power to new president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in February.

Loyalist 'purge'

Tens of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets on Thursday to protest several Saleh loyalists and relatives, including his son Ahmed and another nephew, Yahya, who are hanging on to key military posts and refusing to step down.

Protesters carried banners urging the nation's new president to "Purge the army of family members'' of his predecessor, who stepped down last year.

Hadi has made restructuring the nation's military a top priority after coming into power in a single-candidate election earlier this year.

He replaced nearly 20 officers last month, including Air Force Chief Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, the former president's

Ahmar had initially refused to step down, besieging the capital's airport and grounding all flights in protest at the decision to demote him.

He later accepted his new post as assistant to the defence minister.

Al-Qaeda links

Hadi's sacking of his predecessor's loyalists in the armed forces is part of the US-allied government's drive to fight al-Qaeda and groups linked to the organisation.

At least 17 fighters linked to al-Qaeda were killed in air strikes and clashes in the south on Thursday according to
several officials.

Nazar Jaafar, a leader in an army-allied tribal force, said four fighters from Ansar al-Sharia, an al Qaeda-affiliated
group, were killed during clashes with tribesmen near the southern city of Lawder.

Five others were killed by a Yemeni air strike outside the same city on Thursday morning, a security official

Meanwhile, eight more fighters were killed in clashes with the Yemeni army in the southern city of Zinjibar, the Defence
Ministry said in an online statement.

Source: Agencies