Yemen Airport Reopens After Diplomatic Pressure

April 9, 2012

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Yemen's main Sanaa airport reopened on Sunday, a day after officers and tribesmen loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh forced it to close in protest at the sacking of the air force commander, a half-brother of Saleh.

The one-day showdown highlighted the continuing turmoil in the country despite a peace deal under which Saleh stood down after months of protests against his 33-year rule and was replaced in February by his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Local officials and tribal sources said rockets were fired, probably by a US drone, at a suspected al Qaeda vehicle in central Shabwa province late on Saturday but missed their target.

As part of the agreement on Saleh's removal, Hadi had a mandate to restructure the armed forces to remove some commanders loyal to the former president.

His sacking of the air force commander, General Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, enraged Saleh loyalists, and the Sanaa airport blockade on Saturday was a direct challenge to his authority, showing how Saleh's family can still influence Yemeni politics.

The state news agency Saba reported that flights at Sanaa airport had resumed, citing the head of the aviation authority.

A government official told reporters the airport has been reopened after pressure by the United States and the Gulf Arab states which brokered the deal for Saleh to quit after months of demonstrations that brought the country to a standstill.

"(They) have told Saleh's relatives that Sanaa airport is a 'red line' and cannot be closed," said the government official, who asked not to be named.