UPDATE 2-Gunmen snatch three Westerners in Yemen capital

(Adds nationalities)

SANAA, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Gunmen abducted a Finnish couple

and a Austrian man in the centre of Sanaa on Friday, a security

official told Reuters, just two days after a major overhaul of

the armed forces in a drive to bring stability to the

impoverished country.

"People saw a car stop in Tahrir Square, militants snatching

three Westerners and speeding away," the official said.

"The abductors didn't reveal their affiliation or demands,"

Police were searching for the gunmen who abducted the

Westerners, who were all studying Arabic in Yemen, he said.

Kidnappings of Westerners occur sporadically in Yemen,

mostly carried out by Al Qaeda militants and tribesmen.

Lawlessness in the Arabian Peninsula state has alarmed its

neighbour and top world oil exporter Saudi Arabia, as well as

the United States, which increasingly views Yemen as a front

line in its struggle against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

This week's overhaul of the armed forces by President

Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is widely seen as an effort to curb the

still considerable influence of former President Ali Abdullah

Saleh.

It could also help loosen his family's grip on the military

and implement an internationally-backed plan to restore

stability.

Hadi's government is also grappling with the threat of al

Qaeda and a growing secessionist movement in the south.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Mahmoud Habboush;

Editing by Sophie Hares)

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