Yemen president under pressure to hasten reform
Pressure is mounting on Yemen's president, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, amid growing protests calling on him to speed up reforms of the military and unify the country's army.
"We accepted Hadi as president under certain conditions," said Abdullah Aqlan, one of thousands of activists who marched on Friday in front of Mr Hadi's residence in Sanaa. "We seek a military that serves the nation, not a family."
The activists said they planned to hold the same protest twice a week until their demands are met.
Since he became president in February, Mr Hadi's efforts to reform the military and other parts of government have faced strong resistance.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president, leads the anti-reform campaign. He stepped down in February as part of a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), in return for immunity from prosecution - but the deal did not ban him from politics.
Meddling by Mr Saleh and his supporters "is a major reason for the halt of political progress and the growing distrust between political powers", said Mr Hadi's political adviser, Yaseen Noman.
Mr Saleh's son, Commander Ahmed Ali Saleh, heads the country's Republican Guards, a force of nearly 90,000 troops.
Opposition parties have demanded he be relieved of duty in return for their participation in the national dialogue conference in November. They also threatened to withdraw their ministers from the government unless the armed forces are restructured.
Mr Hadi's decrees transferred the command of strategic Republican Guards' units to the presidential protective forces, an entity under his authority he created.
Supporters of Commander Saleh did not take the move lightly. Hundreds besieged the defence ministry for hours and shot thousands of rounds in the air.
Last week, militants loyal to the former president took the interior ministry by force and held troops hostage. Thirteen of the interior minister's security detail were killed in an attack that exposed the fragile security situation.
Ali Al Sarari, a political adviser to Yemen's prime minister, Mohamed Basindawa, said that Ali Abdullah Saleh and his family must step aside if the country is to go forward. "Key to the transition period is the reconstruction of the army and Saleh is standing in the way of its progress," he said. "The GCC deal will fail if they continue to interfere."
A leading presidential aide said "the Saleh family does not want the military out of their control. They will target Hadi in return".
He added that the former president's loyalists include recently sacked military and security chiefs. "All those who were removed from their posts resort to the former president to avenge their loss," the aide said.
Experts said military reforms were a priority for Mr Hadi but that moving too fast would collapse the entire political system.
"The president is taking this one step at a time," said Abdulsalam Mohammed, the president of the Abaad Studies and Research Centre in Sanaa. "He is not powerful enough to use an iron fist against those who oppose him."
Reforms within the military will continue, but at the same pace, he said, adding: "It took Saleh 33 years to build his empire in Yemen so we shouldn't expect the new president to get rid of their influence in months."