By AHMED AL-HAJ
February 27, 2012
SANAA, Yemen - Aides to Ali Abdullah Saleh said Monday that the ousted Yemeni president plans to go into exile in Ethiopia, as pressures mounted on him to depart the country for fear of sparking new cycles of violence.
The aides said that the former president will leave Yemen within two days along with some of his family members where he will reside in a villa in the suburb of Addis Ababa. Other family members have already left to the United Arab Emirates.
A diplomat in Sanaa confirmed that arrangements had been made for Saleh's departure for Ethiopia. Aides said that visas have been issued and Saleh's belongings already shipped to Ethiopia. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Witnesses who went inside the presidential palace Monday said that a whole hall that used to display precious souvenirs, antiques, golden watches, guns, hunting rifles and other paraphernalia collected under Saleh's regime, was bare on Monday.
A senior army officer and a presidency employee told AP that the commander of the Presidential Guards, who is also Saleh's nephew, has ordered his guards to move all the antiques to an undisclosed location. Another employee said that even alcohol which Saleh used to serve to his western visitors have also been carried away.
Officials said that Saleh came under heavy pressures from Western and Arab countries to leave the country, upon repeated requests by the newly elected president and transitional government to prevent Saleh from staying in Yemen.
Newly inaugurated President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was sworn in as president on Saturday following an election aimed at ending more than a year of political turmoil in Yemen. Hadi was the only candidate in the vote. A Gulf-proposed and U.S. backed power-transfer deal gave Saleh immunity from prosecution in exchange for stepping down.
During a meeting in Sanaa with John O. Brennan, President Obama's chief counterterrorism advisor the night before the election, Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa told Brennan, "Saleh's return to the country means another war." That is according to a senior Yemeni official with knowledge of the meeting.
The prime minister was also quoted as telling Brennan, "we have given concessions, and we are not ready to give more," in reference to giving Saleh immunity from prosecution.
Basindwa, according to the Yemeni official, has pleaded for U.S. intervention to force Saleh to leave.
Other Yemeni officials said that members of the U.N. Security Council threatened to freeze Saleh and his family's assets if he did not leave. They didn't name the member states but one said, "after days of maneuvering, he accepted."
The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa declined to comment and the Ethiopian Embassy could not immediately be reached for comment.
Saleh's erratic behavior has been a major source of uncertainty throughout Yemen's last year of turmoil.
He slipped out of signing the accord for the power handover accord three times before finally agreeing to it.
His opponents fear that if he remains in the country he will be able to exert control through his powerful network of well-placed family members and allies.
Saleh left Yemen in June after being injured in a rocket attack on his palace. He received medical treatment in neighboring Saudi Arabia for three months.
The United States, which has pushed for stability in Yemen for fear that al-Qaida will extend its influence there, had hoped he would remain in the Gulf. But the Yemeni leader returned home and violence worsened anew.
Three weeks ago Saleh went to the United States for more medical treatment, and again it was hoped that he would remain abroad. But he returned Saturday for Hadi's inauguration.
Saleh's aides said that he was waiting for an answer from the Gulf sultanate of Oman on whether he can live there but the sultanate has not responded to his request.
Saleh stayed in Muscat in January for some days before he left to the U.S. for treatment, and Yemeni officials raised the possibility at the time that he would eventually seek exile in Oman, which borders Yemen to the east.
In a farewell ceremony on Monday, Saleh and Hadi appeared for the first time next to each other. They pledged to lay the foundation for a peaceful power transition.
"Two years from now, I will stand in the same place to transfer power to (another) newly elected president," Hadi addressed the gathering. Saleh then passed a Yemeni flag to his successor.
According to the deal that saw Saleh agree to leave office, within two years a new president and a new parliament are to be elected and a new constitution should be in place.
But the ceremony did not sit well with many Yemenis who would rather see Saleh prosecuted. The image of Saleh and his successor standing side by side sparked protests on the streets.
Chants rang out in the streets of Sanaa and in front of Hadi's house as tens of thousands of Yemenis called for Saleh's prosecution.
"This is a provocation to the Yemeni people," said Abdu al-Udaimi, a spokesman for the anti-Saleh protest movement. "As if Saleh claims he is stepping down voluntarily."