Yemen on Monday sacked the chief of its police special forces, a day after violent clashes as they tried in vain to disperse a Shiite rebel sit-in blocking the road to Sanaa airport.
As thousands of Shiite Huthis stepped up their protest action, General Fadl al-Qawsi was replaced by General Mohammed al-Ghadra, an official close to the interior ministry told AFP, without disclosing the reason.
Huthi rebels, also known as Ansarullah, said a demonstrator was shot dead and around 40 others were wounded in Sunday’s clashes with police special forces, who had hurled tear gas canisters and deployed water cannon.
AFP was unable to confirm the toll from independent sources.
The special forces unit, known previously as the central security force, was loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who stepped down in February 2012 following a year of often deadly protests against his autocratic rule.
The Huthi rebels have been pushing for the government’s resignation, accusing it of corruption. They also demand greater powers within state institutions.
Huthi protesters blocking the airport road were Monday only 100 metres (yards) away from the interior ministry, as their numbers grew, an AFP correspondent reported.
Protesters have pitched new tents blocking access to the electricity and telecommunications ministries on the airport road, where they have been demonstrating for several weeks.
Both ministries were closed on Monday.
“Outlaws have blocked access to the ministries of electricity and telecommunications and forced employees to leave,” a security spokesman said on state news agency Saba.
Huthi rebels surrounding Sanaa were also on Monday preventing government vehicles from entering or leaving the capital, witnesses told AFP.
Rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi was expected to deliver a speech later in the day.
– Air raids –
Ansarullah have so far rejected overtures from President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi who has offered to name a new prime minister and reduced a disputed fuel price hike.
Both concessions were core demands of the Huthis who launched their protest movement on August 18, after battling troops and tribes for months for control of key cities north of Sanaa.
In Jawf province, to the northeast, the air force has since Sunday carried out raids on Huthi positions in Ghayl region, tribal sources said.
The air strikes targeted arms depots used by the rebels, said one of the sources, without giving a casualty toll.
Meanwhile, gunmen on Sunday night sabotaged a main oil pipeline in the Wadi Abida region of the eastern province of Marib, halting the flow, the defence ministry said.
The 320-kilometre (200-mile) pipeline links the Safer oilfields to the export terminal in Hodeida province on the coast.
Attacks on oil and gas pipelines in Yemen are frequent and are often carried out by heavily armed tribes as a lever to press for their demands.