Sana'a: Troops from Yemen's elite Republican Guard force, led by the son of ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, on Tuesday attacked the headquarters of the defence ministry but were repelled, witnesses said.

The forces laid siege to the ministry in Sana'a before attacking it with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades, witnesses told AFP.

The attack comes a week after new president Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi ordered a restructuring of army forces, reducing the number of units under the command of rival chiefs including Saleh's son.

Hundreds of members of the force led by General Ahmad Ali Abdullah Saleh blocked the roads leading to the ministry in central Sanaa, said witnesses.

They said the forces, who had come from the main base of the Republican Guard in Sawad, south of the capital, exchanged fire with police on their way to the ministry.

Government troops later managed to repel the assailants, arresting a number of them and besieging others in buildings close to the ministry, witnesses said.

Troops guarding the ministry used armoured vehicles to chase the attackers.
They were backed by Military Police and reinforcements from the army's fourth armoured brigade.

Army reinforcements were deployed around the residence of Hadi, who replaced Saleh in an Gulf-brokered peace deal that ended 13 months of protests against the veteran leader, witnesses said.

Troops were also stationed around the central bank as employees were evacuated.

The motive behind the attack remained unclear.

In a presidential decree last week, Hadi ordered the formation of a "presidential protection" force which will include three brigades from the Republican Guard.

The force will also include a brigade from the First Armoured Division led by General Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar who defected to the anti-Saleh opposition last year, official news agency Saba reported.

Hadi assigned other brigades from the two rival units to the central and southern regions, it added.

Under the terms of the peace agreement, Hadi is tasked with restructuring the military and security apparatus, which had been controlled by officials with close ties to Saleh and accused of corruption.

On July 31, a group of policemen occupied the interior ministry and clashed with other forces in a gunfight that left 15 people dead.

Yemen's Supreme Security Committee blamed the assault on "a group of inciters among the ranks of the police force aiming to undermine security," and the government accused those behind the attack of "seeking to spread chaos in a desperate attempt to undermine the political process in Yemen."