SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis rallied across the country Friday to support a military shake-up this week that limited the powers held by loyalists of the country's ousted leader, including his son.
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's measures on Wednesday brought the military's Special Forces and Republican Guard run by ousted leader Ali Abdullah Saleh's son, Ahmed, under the control of the Defense Ministry.
Restructuring the army was a top demand by Yemenis after Saleh's ouster in February. He ruled the impoverished Arab nation for 33 years and was forced to step down following massive protests during the country's Arab Spring uprising last year.
The United States and powerful Arab Gulf nations led by Saudi Arabia helped broker the power-transfer deal, which eased him out of office.
Saleh has been blamed by many over the past year for using loyalists and relatives in powerful posts to stall reform efforts by the new leadership under Hadi, who was the former leader's deputy before becoming president.
On Thursday, the White House said President Barack Obama's counterterrorism chief John Brennan called Hadi to convey U.S. support for the Yemeni leader's "steadfast resolve to continue on the path of political transition."
The White House said the move advances the goal of a unified, professional military that serves the Yemeni people. The statement also said the two discussed "the importance of international support for Yemen's economic development and the need to sustain close cooperation against al-Qaida."
Washington considers al-Qaida in Yemen as the militant group's most dangerous branch.
Al-Qaida militants took advantage of the political turmoil last year to overrun entire cities and towns in southern Yemen.
With U.S. support, the Yemeni military managed to take back control of southern territories earlier this year, but al-Qaida militants have still been able to launch attacks against the army. The attacks have killed hundreds of security forces.
In a sign of Yemen's still volatile security situation, three foreigners — two men and a woman — were kidnapped on Friday by unknown gunmen from the center of the capital, Sanaa, the city's governor said.
The assailants fired bullets in the air before taking the three in a white unmarked Land Cruiser, Governor Abdel-Qader Hilal told The Associated Press. The nationalities of the three were not disclosed.
In Friday's demonstration in all 17 provinces across Yemen, people expressed support for the shake-up, chanting: "Move forward, Hadi, for the dreams of our nation."
Hadi's measures also included the naming of a new commander to replace Saleh's nephew, Yahia, as head of the Central Security Forces.
The president also merged another unit headed by Yahia, the Anti-Terrorism Force, to the Defense Ministry. In addition, the president dismissed the ousted leader's brother Mohammed, who was among at least seven deputies of chief of staff removed in the shake-up.