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Houthis, Saleh associates grab top positions in Yemen's elite police forces

Associates of the Houthi militants and former President Saleh, accused of being behind their rise, appointed to police special forces
A gunman loyal to former President Saleh marches against sanctions imposed against him in October (AFP)

The Yemeni President has appointed top security officials known for their close ties to Houthi militiamen who have overrun the capital, as well as to former strongman President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The Houthis have demanded that the government - formed in November under a UN-brokered peace deal - recruit thousands of their supporters to the army and security forces.

In a decree issued late on Monday, President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi appointed General Abdulrazaq al-Merwani as chief of the police special forces.

Merwani is known for his close ties to the Houthis, who met with little resistance when they seized the Yemeni capital last September before sweeping into several other towns and provinces.

Hadi, who gave no reason for the security appointments, named another person close to the Houthis, Colonel Nasser al-Shawthabi, as director of operations for the police special forces.

The unit, known previously as the central security force, was previously loyal to Saleh, who ruled the country with an iron fist for 32 years before stepping down in February 2012 following a year of often deadly protests.

Hadi chose General Yahya Qarqar, known for his strong ties with Saleh, as police chief of staff.

Qarqar replaces General Ahmed Maqdeshi who is close to the anti-Houthi Islah Party, Yemen’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Washington has accused Saleh, who remains a prominent figure in Yemen, of being "behind the attempts to cause chaos throughout Yemen" by using the Houthi militia to weaken the government and "create enough instability to stage a coup”.

The decision comes days after it was reported that a Houthi field commander had met secretly with Yemen’s Interior and Defence Ministers, apparently agreeing to stop attacking the oil-rich province of Mareb if the group is allowed to have a say in appointing personnel to military units in the area.

The turmoil has raised fears that Yemen, which neighbours oil-rich Saudi Arabia and lies on the key shipping route from the Suez Canal to the Gulf, may become a failed state similar to Somalia.

The UN Security Council in November slapped sanctions - including a visa ban and asset freeze - on Saleh and two rebel commanders for threatening peace.

Yemen has been dogged by instability since Saleh's ousting, with militants from the Houthis and al-Qaeda fighting it out to fill the power vacuum.

On 7 January a car bomb targeted potential police recruits in Sanaa, killing 40 people, most of whom were young Yemenis queuing up to enlist in the police force.

Authorities have blamed the attack on al-Qaeda, which has been battling the Houthis. However, a leader of the group has denied the organisation’s involvement.

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