Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Yemen's Saleh secured honourable exit: analysts

By Wissam Keyrouz (AFP) – January 24, 2012

DUBAI — Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has finally found himself an honourable exit that might not completely throw him out of politics despite a year-long uprising against his 33 years in power, analysts say.

Saleh finally left his country on Sunday heading to the United States, his ally in the "war on terror" that has supported the Arab Spring which swept the region last year.

The United States said it will receive the 69-year-old who travelled there for medical treatment for a "limited time" after which Saleh would return to Yemen where he will continue to lead his General People's Congress party.

"It is the end of Saleh as a president, but his political role is linked to future political developments," said Yemeni analyst Ali Seif Hasan.

For Hasan, "Ali Saleh is pragmatic with excellence. He knows that he got himself the best settlement" from a Gulf-brokered power transfer deal by which he handed power over to his deputy in return for immunity from prosecution for himself and his aides.

Yemen's parliament on Saturday adopted a law giving him complete immunity from prosecution in return for stepping down.

The law, which also grants limited immunity to his aides, has drawn wide condemnation from young protesters, who have seen hundreds of their compatriots killed by Saleh's security forces and loyalists since the uprising against his rule broke out in January 2011.

It has also been strongly criticised by Western rights groups and the United Nations.

The man, who has compared ruling Yemen to "dancing on the heads of snakes" has proved to be a smart tactician, portraying himself as a "saviour" after he signed the Gulf deal he had stalled during months of unrest that threw the country into chaos and left its economy in shambles.

On Sunday, he appeared on television in a dramatic farewell speech in which he appealed for forgiveness from the Yemeni people for "any shortcomings" during his rule.

Saleh's political future "will depend on his opponents' errors," Hasan said.

For analyst Ibrahim Sharqieh of the Doha-based Brookings Centre, "Saleh is not yet over."

According to the analyst, the immunity that Saleh has obtained might not protect him in case he was wanted by international courts.

Any victims will also continue to have the right to demand compensations, said Sharqieh.

For Sharqieh, it was international pressure that forced Saleh to cede power, in addition to the fact that he has "achieved his goal during the latest phase of the crisis by being granted an honourable exit" compared to fellow Arab leaders who were ousted or killed last year.

Saleh has escaped the fates of his three counterparts -- Tunisia's Zine El Abdine Ben Ali who was exiled, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak who is facing trial, and Libya's dictator Moamer Kadhafi who was killed during his capture.

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, cautioned it was too early to celebrate with the leader's relatives still in charge of Yemen's military and security apparatus.

The protesters reject the Gulf deal and insist on Saleh's trial.

Mohammed Qahtan, a leader in the influential Islamist Al-Islah (reform) party, the main opposition group during Saleh's rule, said: "It is definitely Saleh's end."

This will fully take effect after the February 21 elections by which Saleh's deputy Abdrabuh Mandur Hadi will be officially elected as a president of consensus.

Saleh got a "very good" deal because the "settlement was achieved through negotiations and because the opposition did not push things towards the edge and accepted the agreement out of their fear for the country," Qahtan said.

The role of Saleh's sons and relatives will meanwhile diminish with the restructuring of security and military forces, as per the Gulf plan, especially with the redeployment of Republican Guard troops.

"The political agreement has ended the conflict in Sanaa but has on the other hand, thrown it fully open for other major political problems such as the south (the site of a powerful secessionist movement) and the Huthis," Zaidi Shiite rebels in the country's north, said Hasan.

He projects however, that Saleh's GPC party, that holds a majority in parliament, "will continue to have a say" in the country's political scene.

But the role of Saleh himself "will remain open to all options," says Hasan, adding that the veteran has "left with his head held up high."

Yemen's Saleh seeks exile in reluctant Oman: diplomats

MUSCAT | Tue Jan 24, 2012

MUSCAT (Reuters) - By Saleh al-Shaibany Outgoing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is seeking exile in neighboring Oman, but the sultanate is reluctant to host him for fear of hurting its relations with any future Yemeni government, diplomats said Tuesday.

Saleh left Sanaa Sunday and headed to the United States for medical treatment after a brief stopover in Oman, though he said in a parting speech he would return to Yemen.

A foreign diplomat in Muscat said Saleh had sought permission to reside there. An Omani government source declined to confirm or deny receiving such a request, but said Oman would be reluctant to agree to it in case this might harm future ties with Yemen.

The United States, which endorsed a plan to coax Saleh out of office by granting him immunity from prosecution over the deaths of protesters during an uprising against his rule, defended its decision to issue him a visa, despite criticism that it would be seen as sheltering him.

"We ... believe that his absence from Yemen at this critical juncture will help facilitate a transition that completes the end of his rule, helps Yemen and ultimately has a positive effect on the rights and dignity of the Yemeni people," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday.

"Our policy focus remains on preventing further instability and keeping that transition on track," he said, adding that Saleh would stay in the United States for a limited time only.

The United States and Saudi Arabia fear protracted political upheaval in Yemen could give al Qaeda's regional wing a foothold near oil shipping routes through the Red Sea.

Those concerns were underscored when Islamist militants seized the town of Radda last week led by Tareq al-Dahab, a relative of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, whom Washington accused of a main role in the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda and assassinated in a drone strike last year.

Dahab had said he would withdraw from Radda, about 170 km (105 miles) southeast of Sanaa, if the town was run according to Islamic law and several jailed militants including his brother Nabil were released.

A tribesman negotiating with the militants on behalf of the government said they had agreed to Nabil's release and the formation of the council but refused to let militants run it, at which point the talks broke down.


Despite Saleh's departure, many believe he and his supporters will still wield influence over Yemen, where a year of anti-government demonstrations has been punctuated by warfare between Saleh's forces, those of a rebel general, and tribal militias.

Yemeni air force officers blocked main roads in the capital Tuesday, the third day of a strike demanding the resignation of their commander, a half-brother of Saleh, witnesses said.

Hundreds gathered outside the residence of acting leader Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, calling for General Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar to be dismissed. Others sat in the road, blocking traffic.

The strike is part of a wave of work stoppages that has gripped Yemen since Saleh signed a Gulf-brokered deal formally handing power to Hadi in November.

Political turmoil has worsened the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which has half a million people displaced by various internal conflicts, including fighting between government troops and Islamists in the south of the country.

UNICEF's director for Middle East and North Africa, Maria Calivis, told a news conference in Sanaa Tuesday that 500,000 Yemeni children were now at risk of death from malnourishment.

Four people were injured in an explosion in the village of al-Maajilah, in southern Abyan province, which a local official said was caused by unexploded ordnance from an airstrike.

Government forces have used airstrikes in the province against alleged members of al Qaeda, the target of a U.S. "counter-terrorism" drive that includes the use of drones. Dozens of people were killed in a 2009 airstrike in the area.

Yemenis turn anger towards US Embassy

Chiara Onassis | 24 January 2012
SANA’A: In the wake of the passing of the “immunity bill” which in essence allows President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the main figures of his regime to walk free without fear of future prosecution despite the many counts of war crimes and embezzlement, tens of thousands of Yemenis descended onto the country’s streets voicing their outrage.
Despite a statement made by Prime Minister Mohamed Basendwa on Saturday claiming that despite his “desire for justice” he had to choose Yemen; adding that as the head of the government his prime duty was to protect the nation and that to his best knowledge Saleh had to be given immunity.
Frustrated by the slow-paced power-transfer and the regime unwillingness to comply to the terms of the GCC brokered initiative, revolutionaries turned their anger and frustration towards the international community and more specifically against the US embassy as Americans, Yemenis feel are still supporting and protecting the autocrat.
“It is all their doings [the Americans], they gave him money, then weapons to destroy us, now they want him to protect him from his crimes. If they love him so much why don’t they just take him? We don’t want him! We don’t want his regime! “said a passionate Youth demonstrator in “Change Square”.
Anti-riots police units were immediately dispatched nearby the US embassy as the government feared an escalation in violence.
“We will be back” taunted revolutionaries. “This is our country and we will do as we please, the Americans cannot dictate our conduct or meddle anymore.”
Another group of protesters decided to head towards Sana’a International Airport as they are now demanding the immediate departure of General Mohamed al-Ahmar, President’s Saleh brother and Head of the air force.
Since his military is sitting directly next to the airport, protesters are now occupying the nearby grounds, determined to serve a deadly to the regime’s apparatus by getting rid of one of its pillars.
As a result, flights in Sana’a have been delayed. Security officials have said that for now the airport would remain open adding they were carefully monitoring the situation.
Special UN envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar admitted that the amendments made to the immunity bill did not “lived up to the UN’s expectations” since it failed to address the victim’s rights.

UNICEF: 750,000 Yemeni children are malnourished

By Ahmed Al-Haj

Associated Press / January 24, 2012

SANAA, Yemen—A year of Yemen's turmoil has exacerbated the number of malnourished children under the age of five to around 750,000, UNICEF said Tuesday, appealing to the government and the international community to help develop the country's infrastructure to tackle the problem.

In some parts of this country of 20 million people, the number of children suffering from malnutrition has doubled from what it was in 2000, said Maria Calivis, the UNICEF director for Middle East and North Africa.

Calivis told The Associated Press the figure crosses the "emergency threshold," an international standard calling for urgent action.

"The number itself says it's a crisis," Calivis said. "The crisis can be an invisible one because it is (mostly) outside, in remote areas."

Calivis met with the country's new prime minister and Cabinet officials who she said were "not only surprised but shocked" by the figure.

Yemen has for years experienced localized insurgencies, and the number of displaced people has increased during the year-long uprising against authoritarian President Ali Abdullah Saleh, inspired by other Arab Spring revolts.

According to UNICEF, 60 percent of internal refugees or, around 300,000, are Yemeni children.

Before the uprising against Saleh, Yemen was already the most impoverished country in the Arab world.

UNICEF said that in the capital of Sanaa alone, 82 schools were attacked by armed forces or groups since the beginning of protests early last year.

Yemen's Education Ministry said at least 54 schools had been occupied by military forces and militias from both the pro and anti-Saleh camps during the height of clashes.

Daily protests demanding Saleh's ouster and mounting international pressure eventually forced the president to sign a deal to pass power to his vice president. Saleh flew to Oman late Sunday in the first stop of a trip that is to eventually take him to the U.S. for medical treatment, some two months after signing the power transfer accord. He was badly burned during a June attack on his compound in Yemen.

Al-Qaida's branch in Yemen has taken advantage of the political instability of the past year to increase its foothold throughout parts of the country, particularly in the south.

The militant takeover of main towns in Abyan province forced over 100,000 people to flee the violence.

Despite the political and security upheaval, Calivis said children must remain a priority for the new government.

"There are obviously many competing priorities and there will be always be in the future competing priorities, but ours is an appeal that protecting your children will also ensure security, peace and economic recovery in the long run," she said.

Separately from the violence gripping Yemen, malnutrition resulting from waterborne diseases, unsanitary conditions and little access to vitamin-rich food has put 500,000 more children in danger of dying or suffering from physical disabilities due to malnutrition.

UNICEF has vowed to spend 140 million dollars in the next four years in Yemen, but Calivis said it is "a drop in the bucket when you look at the needs."

"UNCIEF plays an important part, but it needs government commitment and international commitment in order to make a difference," she said.