Yemeni Protesters Demand Trial Of President

Published December 30, 2011 4:54PM (EST)

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Tens of thousands of Yemenis held demonstrations around the country Friday to demand their longtime president face trial for the killings of hundreds of unarmed protesters in the pro-democracy uprising that began 10 months ago.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power for 33 years, signed a deal granting him immunity from prosecution in return for stepping down. Last month, Saleh, a one-time U.S. ally against al-Qaida, transferred his powers to his vice president and said he intended to travel to the United States for medical treatment of 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 United States, because it doesn't include far-reaching political changes or allow for Saleh to be tried.

The slogan for Friday's protests referred to the uprising's unmet aims: "Together to achieve the goals of the revolution."

Protesters carried pictures of Saleh with the words "You will not escape punishment."

"Saleh will not get immunity no matter what price we have to pay," said activist Mahmoud Taha.

The U.S. was still evaluating Saleh's request for a visa. Fearful of appearing to harbor an autocrat with blood on his hands, the Obama administration was trying to ensure that Saleh visits only for medical care and doesn't plan to stay, U.S. officials said this week.

Saleh was a key U.S. partner in battling al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which Washington believes is the most dangerous of several offshoots of the terror network.

As the death toll in the crackdown on protesters mounted, however, Washington joined those pressuring Saleh to hand over power.

Friday's protests demanded that members of Saleh's regime be purged from top positions in government. Besides the demonstrations in the capital of Sanaa, similar protests were held in 18 other cities.

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 in attacking protesters over the past months.

In another act of defiance from within, several hundred police have staged a sit-in at their barracks in Sanaa. On Thursday, fellow security officers shot and killed one of the protesting officers. Five others were wounded when forces attempted to clear out the sit-in.

The police are demanding the removal of top Interior Ministry officials whom they accuse of corruption and ties to Saleh's regime.

Meanwhile, a few thousand Saleh supporters held a counter-rally in the capital, calling the power transfer deal unconstitutional.

"The people want Ali Abdullah Saleh," they chanted.

For the first time, Yemeni state TV — normally a mouthpiece of the regime — carried no reports on the pro-Saleh rally.

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.

By Salon Staff

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