SANAA, Yemen – Yemen’s outgoing president decided to stay in the country, reversing plans to leave, his ruling party said Saturday in an apparent attempt to salvage his control over the regime, which has appeared to unravel in the face of internal revolts and relentless street protests.
In a sign of the fraying, the son and nephew of President Ali Abdullah Saleh launched a crackdown on suspected dissidents within the ranks of the elite security services they command, officials within the services said. The Republic Guard, led by the son, and Central Security, led by the nephew, have been the main forces used in trying to suppress the uprising against Saleh’s rule the past year.
Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis marched in the streets of Sanaa and other cities on Saturday, demanding that Saleh be put on trial for the deaths of protesters killed in the crackdown since February.
Saleh signed a power transfer agreement in early November that was meant to ease him out of power after nearly 33 years of rule in hopes of calming the turmoil that has shaken this impoverished Arab nation for months. Under the accord, Saleh handed over all his authorities to his vice president and committed to step down formally once parliament grants him immunity from prosecution.
But opponents say he has tried since then to maintain his influence through loyalists in his ruling party and through the security forces commanded by his family. His People’s Congress Party retains considerable power as part of a power-sharing government with the opposition, and critics say it has worked to undermine Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Meanwhile, protests have swelled after organizers rejected the accord because of the provision granting Saleh immunity. In recent weeks, the unrest has expanded with strikes breaking out within multiple government institutions and within units of the regular military demanding the removal of Saleh loyalists.
Hundreds of men in military uniform marched on Saturday through the southern city of Taiz, a center of the uprising, calling for trials of top commanders over the killings of protesters. Some renegade units in other parts of the military have even locked their commanders out of military installations and demanded the removal of officers accused of corruption or involvement in the deadly crackdown.
Saleh’s flip-flop on leaving the country was the latest show of the mercurial way he has handled the crisis since it erupted.
Last weekend, he told reporters he would travel to the United States for a period to help bring calm to his nation. But on Saturday, he met with figures from the People’s Congress Party and decided to stay.
Washington has been hesitant to allow Saleh to enter the United States, wary of being seen to give refuge to a leader considered by many of his people to have blood on his hands. That may have played a major part in Saleh’s reversal. But the president likely also wants to be present to direct his loyalists and put pressure on Hadi and the unity government, said Abdel-Bari Taher, a political analyst.
“He won’t let the new government work without interruptions,” said Taher. But “eventually, things are going to get out of control. … The strikes and government concessions only mean that Saleh’s regime will eventually lose its share in power.”