x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Yemen denies claim that Saleh won't be back

Officials in Sana'a say Saudis should respect their guest and not make comments about Yemeni affairs.

SANA'A // The Yemeni government yesterday rejected a Saudi Arabian official's claim that its president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, would not return to Yemen.

The denial came after an unnamed Saudi Arabian official told the news agency Agence France-Presse that Mr Saleh would "not return to Yemen" and the kingdom was undecided about where he would stay.

"Saudi Arabia has no right to comment on what President Saleh will do or not do," Ahmed Soufi, a senior adviser to Mr Saleh, told The National.

Mr Soufi said the Saudis should respect their guest, Mr Saleh, and not make comments concerning Yemeni affairs. "Its disrespectful for the Saudis to announce that Saleh will not be back. Yemen is not a province in Saudi Arabia where they decide what happens in Yemen."

Ruling party official Yasser al Yamani said plans to welcome the embattled leader are under way. "He will return home after medical reports said he is getting better," he told reporters yesterday.

An official at the Saudi embassy in Sana'a who declined to be named, would not comment on whether Mr Saleh will be back or not but said, "Saudi Arabia respects the decision of the Yemeni people and will support it."

Tens of thousands of pro-government supporters filled Sabeen Square in the capital renewing their vows to fight for the president. "Millions will fight for Saleh. If he does not come back from Saudi Arabia, we will enter Saudi lands and force him back," said Sultan Subaihi, 38, a labourer who was at the pro-Saleh rally yesterday in the capital. The Saudi announcement came as Shiekh Abdul Majid al Zindani, Yemen's most influential cleric, said that senior scholars in Yemen have demanded the end of the Saleh regime.

"President Saleh's resignation must take place immediately to save the people of Yemen from misery," said Shiekh al Zindani, the president of the Yemen Scholars Committee. He said that only the people can choose who they want as president of Yemen and Mr Saleh does not have the power to choose a successor.

"The military must join the revolution and remember they swore to give loyalty to a nation and not a person."

Preparing for a post-Saleh era, opposition parties in Yemen said in a statement yesterday that they would soon create a national coalition involving all political and social factions to stand against any efforts of Mr Saleh coming back to Yemen.

Mohammed Mutawakil, secretary-general of the Popular Front opposition party, said the new coalition will involve the Joint Meeting Parties, youth leaders, Houthis, leading Yemeni exiles, and the Justice and Building party.

Abdo Rabu Hadi, Yemen's vice president and acting head of state, has shown a willingness to co-operate with protesters, reportedly meeting with them four times over the last two weeks.

"Hadi wants change in Yemen, but he is trying to gather more people around him from within his party to stand against the ruling family," said a youth activist yesterday after meeting with the vice president on Thursday.

After five months of uprisings in which more than 400 demonstrators have been killed, anti-government protests continue to sweep the country. Gathering in Sana' yesterday, youth leaders called for the quick formation of a transition council to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. "The demands of the youths are clear: Saleh and his family must leave politics and Yemen will soon see civil rule," said Waseem Qirshi, the spokesperson for the revolution youth organising committee.

Clashes continued yesterday in the two southern provinces of Abyan and Lahj. Earlier this week, at least 85 Islamist militants occupied parts of the coastal city of Aden which they still held by late yesterday.

Abu Nusair, a militant in Aden, said control of the area would enable the insurgents to disrupt vital shipping lanes.

"The Islamic crescent will soon be complete and all vessels passing through the Gulf of Aden will be under our control," said Mr Nusair.