Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, recuperating from injuries sustained in an attack earlier this month, shows no sign he’s considering giving up power to halt his country’s slide into deeper chaos.
From his military hospital bed in Riyadh, Saleh promised Saudi King Abdullah almost two weeks ago that he would help implement the Gulf-brokered accord that stipulates he step down within 30 days, according to two Yemeni officials, who declined to be identified because they are not authorized to talk to the media. After initially backing the accord, the Yemeni leader refused to sign it on three different occasions since May, and may be repeating the maneuver.
Saleh is still signing official documents -- he sent a cable yesterday congratulating Djibouti on its national day -- and hasn’t officially appointed his deputy as acting president. There have been no public reports of negotiations on a transition, and Saleh’s party officials talk about punishing his attackers rather than ending his rule. Meanwhile, clashes between Yemen’s army and al-Qaeda militants are spreading, energy installations have come under attack and protests against Saleh show no sign of abating.
“The longer this goes on, the worse it is for Yemen and the Yemeni people,” said Christopher Boucek, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, in an e-mailed response to questions yesterday. “The international community must impress upon the regime the absolute urgency to resolve this political paralysis.”
State-run Saba news agency said today the armed forced thwarted a plot by an al-Qaeda cell to carry out “terrorist attacks” in Aden.
Five al-Qaeda militants were killed and seven soldiers wounded in confrontations with the armed forces in Wadi Doufis, Saba reported, citing an unnamed official. The agency said six of the group’s “most dangerous” militants were arrested as they tried to sneak into Aden with explosives and wireless devices.
The first few months of unrest cost Yemen $4 billion, Minister of Industry and Trade Hisham Sharaf said in a May 24 interview. The figure would now be higher, and the economy “is functioning at about 60 percent,” he said in a phone interview today. “We have not hit rock bottom but we will try to survive with a crisis economy.”
Oil production in the poorest Arab country dropped to about 3 million barrels a month from 5.8 million after tribes opposed to Saleh destroyed part of a pipeline carrying crude from Marib province in central Yemen, Sharaf said. Vienna-based OMV AG, which pumps oil in Yemen, said political instability made repairs impossible. The Interior Ministry announced a list of 43 suspects that includes members of the main opposition coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties.
Security is deteriorating too. Sixty-three suspected al-Qaeda prisoners escaped June 22 via a tunnel they dug under their cells in the coastal city of Mukalla. The army says it is fighting with al-Qaeda in the southern Abyan province on the Gulf of Aden coast. At least 80 militants and 60 soldiers have died since May, Abdu al-Janadi, the deputy information minister, said on June 15.
The U.S., which has been the target of al-Qaeda attacks organized from the group’s Yemen base, is pressing for Yemen to move ahead with the GCC plan to start a process of democratic reforms, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in Washington on June 23.
Refusal to Sign
Saleh’s party and the official opposition signed the agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council and backed by the U.S., which called for a handover to be followed by elections, yet the president has refused to do so -- citing reasons including the failure to agree on a public signing ceremony.
Saudi officials haven’t publicly commented on the status of the GCC plan since Saleh’s arrival in the kingdom. Currently, there are no preparations for such a ceremony or for a handover of power, Tareq al-Shami, a ruling-party spokesman, said
“Talk about such a transfer is tantamount to rewarding the killers who tried to assassinate the president,” al-Shami said in a telephone interview from Sana’a on June 26. “Yemenis should first be informed of who carried out the crime, who backed it, who financed it.”
Al-Janadi said in a June 26 press conference that the opposition should not expect a power transfer even if Saleh were dead.
There have been conflicting reports about the severity of Saleh’s injuries, what caused the attack and when the president will return to Yemen. Saleh has not been seen publicly since the attack. Ahmed al-Soufi, his adviser, said on Al Arabiya television yesterday that Saleh will make a media appearance within 48 hours.
One of the two Yemeni officials recently saw Saleh and said the president has suffered burns on his face, limbs and upper chest, and has lost weight. Saleh had plastic surgery last week to repair his face, the official said.
While the president has lost weight and his normally booming voice was weak, he was alert and has started physical therapy. The official said he was told by a doctor that there will be no medical obstacle to prevent Saleh returning to his country in early July, as by then the care he will need can be provided in Yemen.
The official said the attack was caused by explosives planted near the minbar, a pulpit in a mosque where the prayer leader stands to deliver sermons. In its initial report, the government said the attack resulted from a rocket that slammed into the front part of the mosque. The official said Yemeni security officials suspect al-Qaeda was behind the assault.
As Saleh lay in the Saudi hospital, thousands of demonstrators marched in several Yemeni cities yesterday demanding the establishment of a transitional council that will rule Yemen. The protesters, who began the anti-Saleh movement in January, reject the GCC accord, putting them at odds with the six-member Joint Meeting Parties, which also wants Saleh to leave but supports the agreement.
“It is clear that new fissures are emerging in Yemen,” said Theodore Karasik, an analyst at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, in response to e-mailed questions. “The level of anxiety is rising.”