Former president of Yemen

Born: March 21, 1942;

Died: December 4, 2017

ALI ABDULLAH Saleh, who has been killed aged 75, was a former president of Yemen who ruled the country for more than three decades and played a pivotal role in the country's ongoing civil war.

Saleh ruled Yemen for more than three decades until he was forced to resign following an Arab Spring uprising in 2011. He remained in the country, however, and continued to wield power from behind the scenes.

In 2014, his forces allied with the Houthis despite the fact that as president he had gone to war with them on more than one occasion. The rebel alliance splintered last week, setting off heavy clashes between the Houthis and Saleh's forces. The Houthi-run Masirah TV announced the death of the "leader of the traitors".

Saleh had survived for decades as Yemen's strongman, the master of shifting alliances, playing both sides, or flipping sides freely, in the multiple guerilla conflicts and civil wars that tore apart his impoverished nation.

During his rule, Saleh was known as the man who "dances on the heads of snakes" for his ability to manipulate

friends and enemies alike, using patronage, family bonds and brute force.

That skill enabled him to stay on top in the Arab world's poorest nation and one of its most unstable, where tribal and regional alliances and the sheer geography of mountains and deserts made central rule weak.

In the 2000s, Saleh was a vital ally of the United States in fighting al Qaida's branch in his country, a top priority for Washington.

After a popular uprising against his rule erupted in 2011, Saleh cannily managed to hang onto power for months, even surviving a bomb that detonated in the presidential palace mosque as he prayed there, severely burning him.

As president, Saleh fought multiple wars against the Houthi rebels in their heartland in northern Yemen, each time failing to crush them completely.

Then after his fall, he allied with the Houthis against his own former vice president and successor, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadir. Saleh's loyalist military units helped the Houthis overrun the capital, Sanaa, and much of the north and centre of the country.

Hadi fled, his government moved to the southern city of Aden and Saudi Arabia and its allies launched a coalition air campaign in early 2015.

Saleh had risen to power in an era when Yemen was divided into two nations, north and south.

He was born into a small tribe allied with one of the country's mightiest clans, al-Ahmar. He did not stay long in school, leaving before he was a teenager and enlisting in the armed forces.

He was ambitious and soon caught the eye of North Yemen's president, Ahmed bin Hussein al-Ghashmi, who appointed him military chief in the city of Taiz, south of Sanaa. His moment came after a bomb in a briefcase killed al-Ghashmi in June 1978. Within a month, Saleh was North Yemen's president, backed by Saudi Arabia.

Among his first acts was to order the execution of 30 officers, some his former friends, convicted of being conspirators in al-Ghashmi's assassination.

His powerful nexus of the military and tribes made him virtually untouchable, although his tribal and political allies grew impatient, complaining that he was ignoring widespread poverty and that corruption was undermining development.

Most disturbing to them, he was centralising power in his and his family's hands. He put his sons and nephews in command of his strongest security units.

Still, he managed to cling to power, then negotiate an exit deal that not only protected him from arrest and prosecution and let him stay in the country but kept many of his loyalists in place in the military.