SANAA, Yemen — A regional government in Yemen said Sunday it has fired a security chief who oversaw deadly crackdowns on anti-government protesters.
The dismissal strikes a blow to embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whom protesters have been trying to push from power during 11 months of mass rallies. Saleh's security forces have cracked down hard on demonstrators, killing hundreds in raids on protest camps and armed attacks on marches.
Saleh has remained defiant throughout. In November, he signed a U.S.-backed plan brokered by Yemen's powerful Gulf Arab neighbors to transfer power to his vice president in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
Some in Yemen worry that Saleh, a wily politician, is trying to undermine the deal to keep power. But the firing of the Taiz region's security chief, a staunch Saleh ally, could indicate that his control, once absolute, is slipping.
The governor of the Taiz region, Hamoud al-Sufi, told The Associated Press Sunday that the regional council had voted to remove Brig. Gen. Abdullah Qairan after reviewing the province's security situation.
A regional council member said the decision was based on Qairan's role in the deaths of protesters.
"He was involved in killing civilians because he is the one who ordered the forces to fire on protesters and raid protest camps," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.
Taiz has been a hotbed of anti-regime activity throughout the 11-month popular uprising seeking to end Saleh's 33-year rule, and security forces have often responded with deadly force.
Saleh moved Qairan to Taiz in March from the province of Abyan, where local activists accused him of ordering the use of indiscriminate force against demonstrators.
In late May, security forces stormed the central protest camp in Taiz city, shooting demonstrators and setting their tents on fire. More than 20 people were killed.
Qairan is the latest in a string of local officials to lose their posts under mounting protests targeting regime officials accused of corruption. His removal also indicates that the power transfer plan is beginning to have a limited effect.
A committee set up under the plan to revise the security sector suggested his removal, and al-Sufi, the governor, said it had been coordinated with the vice president and the ministers of the interior and defense.
Before the deal, Saleh could have easily squashed such a move.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets in central Taiz as the news spread, many calling for Qairan to be put on trial.
In a similar move, soldiers in the central Marib province mutinied against their commander, Brig. Gen. Ali al-Samqi, chasing him from their base. The soldiers accused Al-Samqi, also a Saleh loyalist, of corruption. He arrived in the capital, Sanaa, Sunday.
Security has collapsed across Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, during the anti-Saleh uprising, allowing al-Qaida-linked militants to step up operations in the country's loosely governed provinces.
One soldier and six militants were killed in new clashes near the southern town of Zinjibar, military officials said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity under military protocol. The clashes occurred late Saturday.