Sana’a: Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi has removed heavy artillery from hills surrounding Sana’a over fears his predecessor, to whom some elements remain loyal, is plotting a coup, an official said on Monday.
The move comes with the presidential guard, backed by armoured vehicles, surrounding a mosque controlled by ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh in the capital since late Saturday.
Saleh ruled Yemen for 33 years before being forced out in February 2012 and replaced by his long-time deputy Hadi under a UN- and Gulf-sponsored deal.
“The military leadership has dismantled heavy artillery and rockets that were positioned on hills around Sana’a following information of a coup plot” by Saleh “whose loyalists continue to infiltrate the army”, the army said.
Heavy weapons have long been stationed on the hills around Sana’a to secure it as Yemen faces threats from an Al Qaida insurgency, a northern rebellion and a southern separatist movement.
A source close to the presidency said on Sunday that weapons had been stored in the large Al Saleh mosque in the city and were being guarded by gunmen loyal to Saleh.
Hadi suspects his predecessor is plotting a coup, the source said, without elaborating.
A tunnel connecting the site to the presidential palace had also been discovered.
Hadi has ordered that the mosque and its surroundings be handed over to the presidential guard, according to sources close to the presidency.
The mosque siege came days after authorities closed the Yemen Today newspaper and television channel owned by Saleh.
Both media outlets have often been accused of biased coverage of the post-Saleh government and of inciting protests in Sana’a against power cuts and water and fuel shortages.
Critics accuse Saleh of impeding the deeply tribal country’s political transition.
Saleh still heads the influential General People’s Congress (GPC) party which holds half of the government’s ministries. Hadi is the party’s secretary general.
Political sources in Sana’a said that mediation efforts within the GPC, whose members are now divided between supporters of Hadi and Saleh, have so far failed.