Yemen 'amends' proposed immunity law

Draft law extends complete immunity for outgoing president, but his aides may now be tried for criminal acts.

    Yemenis have been regularly taking to the streets to call for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to be put on trial [AFP]

    A Yemeni draft law granting immunity to the outgoing president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, from prosecution over the killing of protesters has been amended to limit the legal protection to his aides and associated, according to a minister.

    The new immunity draft law, which has been heavily criticised by rights groups, the United Nations and Yemeni protesters, "grants complete immunity to president Saleh" but his assistants will only benefit from "political immunity", Mohammad Makhlafi, the legal affairs minister, told the Reuters news agency.

    According to Makhlafi, Saleh's aides could eventually held accountable for criminal or terrorist acts.

    The amended bill, adopted by the government on Thursday during an extraordinary meeting, also provides for the ratification of "laws on national reconciliation and transitional justice".

    The government is to submit the bill to parliament on Saturday.

    Under the power transfer plan brokered by Yemen's Gulf neighbours and signed by Saleh in November, the Yemeni leader was promised legal immunity to help ease him out of office.

    Mohamed Abu Lahoum, president of the opposition Justice and Building Party, told Al Jazeera the new immunity law offers a chance for Yemen to end months of crippling protests against Saleh's 33-year rule.

    "We're not happy with the immunity law, but we [all political parties] must move forward. This is a good opportunity. The [power-transfer] deal has been welcomed by the international community and the GCC [Gulf Co-operation Council], so let's not waste this opportunity," Lahoum said.

    Al-Qaeda fears

    Yemenis angry at the draft law have been regularly taking to the streets, calling for Saleh to be put on trial, and Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief, earlier this month said the immunity offer could violate international law.

    In the southern city of Taiz on Friday, post-prayer protests broke out against the immunity given to president. Taiz is considered the second most important protest city after Sanaa.

    Discussion of the law in parliament has repeatedly been put off, but Makhlafi said it would now take place on Saturday.

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    Al-Qaeda-linked group's threat to take over Sanaa

    The US and neighbouring Saudi Arabia are keen for the plan to work, fearing that protracted political upheaval will let al-Qaeda's regional Yemen-based wing establish a foothold along oil-shipping routes through the Red Sea.

    Already, a suspected al-Qaeda-linked group that took over Radda, a small town in Yemen about 170km southeast of Sanaa, has said it is closing in on the Yemeni capital.

    Tareq al-Dahab, the Ansar al-Sharia chief, is related to Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen who was accused by the US of a leadership role in the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda and who was assassinated in a drone strike last year.

    The fighters swept up from the southern and eastern provinces on Sunday - to within just a few hundred miles of Sanaa.

    While the government in Sanaa has been preoccupied with steering Yemen towards elections scheduled for February, the fighters are taking advantage of the political instability.
    Earlier, al-Dahab released a video online, repeating demands for jailed members of his group to be freed.

    Tribesmen negotiating with the group on behalf of the government said the fighters agreed to leave if their leader’s brother and several others were freed.

    The group is also promising that the town, and the country, will soon be under strict Islamic law.
    But not all the locals are happy to see the group.
    The political opposition blames the government for losing control of the security situation, and despite earlier indications that the elections might be postponed, the government says it is sticking to the timetable.

    Yemen's foreign minister says a presidential election will be held as scheduled.

    In a statement released on Wednesday, foreign minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, said his government was committed to hold presidential elections on February 21.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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