Yemenis step up calls for democracy as President declared unfit to rule

19 June 2011

President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen has again been urged to relinquish power as anti-government protests continue across the country – more than five months after the Yemeni uprising first began.

In the latest challenge to the President’s 33-year rule, a highly influential group of religious and tribal leaders today declared Saleh unable to carry out his duties after he was seriously injured in an attack on his presidential compound on 3 June. He has since been recovering at an undisclosed location in Saudi Arabia.

In the statement – issued to the media on 19 June – the leaders call on Saleh to step aside and hand power to vice president Abdu Rabu Mansoor Hadi, “to save the country from further clashes and bloodshed”, CNN reports.

The President’s two-week absence has led to rampant speculation about whether or not he will return to Sana’a – and what his self-imposed exile might mean for Yemen’s ongoing quest for democracy, liberation and justice.

Despite declaring that he would ‘not leave power and [would] not leave Yemen’ prior to being injured in the attack, Yemenis up and down the country have in recent weeks gathered in their thousands to celebrate his departure and call for an end to his long-standing regime.

In the most recent demonstration, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the Yemeni capital Sana’a to call for the creation of a transitional government and to denounce the power vacuum which has left the country and its people in political limbo. A transition agreement initially brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council –offering Saleh immunity from prosecution in return for his departure – now looks set to fail.

Government officials, meanwhile, have repeatedly denied that the Yemeni president has departed for good. In an interview with the BBC, Yemen’s Chief of Staff for central security, General Yahia Saleh, said: "Of course he will be back after he recovers. There are official preparations to receive him".

And still outbreaks of violence continue. In recent days, gunmen have been reportedly killed in skirmishes across the south of the country, in the province of Lahj, on the outskirts of Zinjibar and in al-Habilayn, Reuters reports. Thousands more continue to flee the fighting.

The Socialist International, which continues to monitor the Yemeni situation closely, said: “The Yemeni people’s resolve during almost six months of protest has been quite remarkable. Day in, day out people continue to take to the streets to demand their freedoms, their rights and a new era of democracy.

“The Saleh regime’s days are now clearly numbered. We applaud the sentiment and words of the religious and tribal leaders’ statement urging an end to the bloodshed – and we continue to support the Yemeni Socialist Party and all opposition efforts to move Yemen – the poorest country in the Middle East – to a brighter, fairer and just future.”