Amid continued violence and abortive dialogue with the opposition, President Saleh returns.
|A placard at the anti-Saleh rally in Sanaa reads ‘You will stand trial!’ [Reuters]|
Tens of thousands of Yemenis have demonstrated around the country to demand their outgoing president face trial for the killings of hundreds of unarmed protesters in the uprising that began 10 months ago.
Thousands gathered in the north of Sanaa, calling for the trial of Ali Abdullah Saleh, as well as all those involved in the killing of 13 people in last week’s “March for Life,” in which protesters walked from the flashpoint city of Taiz to the capital.
Besides the demonstrations in Sanaa, similar protests were held in 18 other cities. A few thousand supporters of Saleh also held a counter-rally near the presidential palace on Friday.
Saleh is still honorary president but has signed a deal granting him immunity from prosecution in return for stepping down when polls are held in February.
Last month, he transferred his powers to his vice-president and said he intended to travel to the US for medical treatment for wounds suffered in a June assassination attempt.
Many protesters have objected to the deal, which was brokered by Gulf Arab nations and supported by the US, because it does not include far-reaching political changes or allow for Saleh, in power for 33 years, to be tried.
“Our message to Ali Abdullah Saleh is there’s no kind of guarantee or immunity for him,” said activist Mohammad Al Asal.
“We are staying in the squares. Our demand is very well known. It is that Saleh should be judged, his assets should be frozen and his file should be sent to the International Criminal Court.”
Call for calm
Hundreds of people have been killed since protests began in February.
A government statement called on Yemenis to be patient and give a newly appointed cabinet more time to meet their demands.
As part of the power-transfer deal, ministerial posts in the new administration were divided up equally between members of Saleh’s government and the opposition.
Friday’s anti-Saleh protests demanded that his loyalists be purged from top positions in government.
For a second day, soldiers at Yemen’s main security headquarters kept the building locked to bar entry to security chief Mohammed el-Qawsi, a relative of Saleh who is believed to have funded groups of armed thugs used to attack protesters over the past months.
Saleh’s General People’s Congress party had initially ended its protests in accordance with the Gulf-brokered peace initiative.
“We all said signing the Gulf initiative will end protests so that life can go back to normal, but the opposition continued
its protests, so that’s why were back,” said demonstrator Murad al-Unsi as pro-Saleh protesters gathered in Sanaa.
The US is still evaluating Saleh’s request for a visa. Washington is trying to ensure that Saleh visits only for medical care and does not plan to stay, US officials said this week.