Air force protests erupt in Yemen

Yemeni air force personnel demand the removal of the president's half-brother as air force  chief in a rally Saturday in Sanaa.

Story highlights

  • Air force rallies across Yemen are calling for the commander's ouster
  • The president's party says the opposition is "pushing the wrong buttons"
  • One man threw his shoes at air force commander Mohammed Saleh
Thousands of Yemeni air force personnel rallied in the capital Saturday to demand the removal of the president's half-brother as the country's air force commander.
They marched in front of the Sanaa home of Vice President Abdurabu Hadi to urge the removal of the commander, Mohammed Saleh, whose policies are under fire by other air force officials.
Thousands of air force members staged similar protests elsewhere in Yemen, with demonstrations occurring in 16 of the country's 21 provinces.
The country has been beset with demonstrations against President Ali Abdullah Saleh since early last year. That's when pro-democratic uprisings spread across the Arab world.
Demonstrators have been turning out against the president despite a power transfer deal that leads to his departure.
Under the plan, the president will step down in February. He will receive immunity under the plan forged by the Gulf Cooperation Council, made up of six Gulf Arab states.
Executive powers already have been transferred to Hadi.
Senior officials in Saleh's General People's Congress party condemned protests against relatives of the ruling family and called the actions an inappropriate tactic and a violation of the power transfer deal. They discussed the air force ferment in closed-door meetings on Friday.
Hadi's office said it is considering an idea to force Mohammed Saleh to step down temporarily and form a committee to run the air force.
"President Saleh will leave power willingly, but the opposition is pushing the wrong buttons and escalating the situation. Such actions will not help the safe transfer of power," said Tareq al-Shami, the GPC spokesman. "Political factions need to ease the tension in this critical period instead of causing barriers and bumps in the way of change."
But opposition parties, while denying that they are standing behind marches against senior ruling family members, said they cannot stop the people from demanding their rights.
"It's a revolution, and Yemenis have learned how to step up to their commanders who are oppressing them," said Mohammed Qahtan, senior official of the opposition Islah party.
Last week, Mohammed Saleh stoked anger at a meeting with senior air force officials and blamed them for not standing up for the president.
One attendee threw his shoes at Saleh and called him a corrupt and oppressive commander. Such a gesture is considered a deep insult in Arab world.
"Mohammed Saleh demanded that air force pilots raid areas of innocent civilians. When we refused, dozens of pilots were imprisoned," said Abdul Aziz al-Muhayya, deputy commander of air force operations. "We are revolting against oppression."
Al-Muhayya told CNN that the marches at the vice president's residence will continue until their commander is forced out of power.
"We are seeking an air force loyal to the country and not to a specific family. Our revolution will continue until the fall of the family from the country's military and air force," al-Muhayya said.
Saleem Nasser, a pilot in the air force and one of the march organizers, said that more than 80 of his air force colleagues have been imprisoned and tortured by the ruling family after rejecting to attack tribes in the outskirts of Sanaa.
"They cannot imprison thousands of us. We will not stop and will only serve the country. We vowed to not attack our people for the sake of a person," Nasser said.