UN backs Yemen transition, thousands protest Saleh immunity

AFP , Sunday 27 Jan 2013

Thousands of Yemeni protesters take the streets to demand international probe into violations committed by Saleh's ousted regime amid the visit of a UN Security Council team to the country

Yemen pro-democracy protesters march during a demonstration demanding the trial of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 (Photo: AP)

A Security Council team pledged support for Yemen's political transition in a rare visit to Sanaa Sunday that drew thousands to the streets to demand the scrapping of immunity for ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh under a UN-backed deal.

The brief visit by a delegation of representatives from the council's 15 members is to "support the political transition" led by President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, British representative Mark Lyall Grant told reporters in the capital.

"We believe that President Hadi's leadership has been instrumental in driving forward the reforms necessary to make Yemen a more stable and prosperous country," said Lyall Grant.

The team, which includes the head and members of the top UN body, held talks with Hadi and government ministers, state television said.

UN special envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, said at a ceremony after the talks that the visit was "historic and unprecedented in the region" and was "to stress the importance of pressing ahead with the political process."

Another member of the team, Moroco's Security Council representative Mohammed Loulichki, too said that trip was unprecedented in the region and "stresses the great interest of the international community in the situation in Yemen".

With the UN officials in the capital, demonstrators in their thousands took to the streets to demand Saleh be put brought before the courts.

"The people want to put the killer on trial," chanted the demonstrators, referring to Saleh who was eased out of office in February 2012 after three decades of rule following the UN-backed and Gulf-brokered deal.

Demonstrators also called for a "return of funds stolen by the former president and his family."

The Youth of the Revolution, a group that was the main engine of the year-long protests that finally led to Saleh's ouster, also called for an international probe into violations and crimes committed by his regime.

It urged the UN Security Council to "freeze the funds owned by the leaders of the former regime and return them to public treasury".

Saleh was ousted under a deal which also stipulated restructuring the army and integrating military and security forces under a single command, a task that remains difficult with Saleh's sons and relatives still occupying senior security posts.

The delegation's visit comes as Sanaa struggles to organise a national dialogue conference that would result in a new constitution and presidential and parliamentary elections in February 2014, thereby ending the current two-year transition period planned as per the Gulf initiative.

The conference, originally set for mid-November, has been repeatedly delayed as some factions of the Southern Movement, which has campaigned for autonomy or secession for the formerly independent south, have refused to join the talks.

UN envoy Benomar said that convening the dialogue "is close" but he did not elaborate.

He told Yeemen's state television that the "process is difficult," and urged all Yemeni parties to "realise that there is a historic opportunity and join the national dialogue without preconditions to solve all Yemeni issues, including the question of the south".

"We have asked the Security Council to continue its support to Yemen and face the parties impeding the national dialogue," Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi told AFP, adding that the talks are expected to begin in February..

After North and South Yemen unified, in 1994, a short-lived secession bid was crushed by Sanaa troops and since then the citizens of the south have complained of discrimination.

Short link: