Yemen president en route to US, soldiers mutiny

SANAA — President Ali Abdullah Saleh was en route to the United States, Yemen’s state news agency said on Monday, as mutinous soldiers called for the ouster of the air force commander, his half-brother.

By (AFP)

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Published: Mon 23 Jan 2012, 11:01 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 2:34 PM

The announcement came a day after Saleh in a televised address apparently marking the end of his rule appealed for forgiveness from the Yemeni people for “any shortcomings” during his 33 years in power.

“The president ... is on his way to the United States to continue what is left of his medical treatment” for wounds sustained in a June bomb attack on his compound, SABA news agency said on its website.

The US State Department said on Sunday that Washington approved a visit by Saleh for medical treatment but stressed it was on the understanding that he would stay only for a “limited time.”

Saleh left late on Sunday for Oman with his five youngest children and his wife, according to a source close to the now “honorary president” of Yemen for the next month.

In his speech, Saleh said he would return to Yemen but not as president, signalling the veteran leader aims to follow through on a Gulf-brokered transition plan which provides for his ouster.

“I will go to the United States for treatment and will then return as head of the GPC,” he said referring to his General People’s Congress party.

After a poll next month, “our brother Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi (vice president) will move into the presidential residence and Ali Abdullah Saleh will pack up his bags, bid farewell and go home,” he said.

However, the thousands of protesters who have been camped out at Sanaa’s Change Square, the epicentre of a pro-democracy movement calling for Saleh’s ouster over the past 12 months, cautioned it was too early to celebrate.

“We are still concerned that this latest move might be one of Saleh’s games ... We will stay in the square until election day on February 21,” said Walid Ammar, a youth leader, remaining sceptical.

“That is the day that Yemen’s future will be decided,” he said.

The activist said “there were no celebrations” in Yemen on Sunday night despite Saleh’s speech and his departure to neighbouring Oman where he made a brief stopover.

“We will not celebrate until Saleh is tried,” he added.

Saleh’s departure followed a Yemeni parliament vote last week to grant him blanket immunity from prosecution for crimes committed in the government crackdown on dissent that since last January has left hundreds dead.

The decision was in line with the Gulf transition plan but has been fiercely criticised by the protesters who bore the brunt of the government crackdown.

Parliament on Saturday also adopted a law approving Saleh’s long-time deputy, Vice President Hadi, as the consensus candidate in the February election to succeed him.

For months, Saleh refused to sign the power-transition plan despite near daily mass protests calling for his resignation, as well as regional and international pressure demanding he step down.

The deadlock threw Yemen into turmoil, shattered the impoverished country’s already weak economy, and left the central government and its institutions vulnerable to collapse.

In the latest of a series of mutinies within the armed forces, soldiers calling for the ouster of Yemen’s air force chief staged a sit-in on Monday outside the vice president’s residence, urging him to dismiss the commander.

According to military officials, soldiers and officers from air bases in Sanaa and the main southern city of Aden want General Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar’s ouster and have threatened further protests if their demand is not met.

In Yemen’s second largest city Taez, soldiers evicted the local commander and his deputy from Tariq base after accusing them of corruption.

Since Saleh took office in 1978, he has carefully selected key members of his regime, appointing his relatives to head the Arabian peninsula country’s military and security apparatus.

His eldest son Ahmed commands the elite Republican Guard, while nephew Yehya heads the central security services and Tariq, another nephew, controls the Presidential Guard.

Meanwhile, the World Bank announced on Monday that it has reopened its Yemen office and resumed operations “as a direct result of the improving security situation in Sanaa and the establishment of the new national unity government.”

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