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Yemeni President Parlays for Time as Protesters Demand Ouster

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is struggling to stay in power until elections are held. Protesters insist he resign now. Al-Qaeda on the rise?
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 3/30/2011, 4:29 PM / Last Update: 3/30/2011, 5:57 PM

Longtime Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is struggling to hold on to power at least until elections are held. But hundreds of thousands of protesters are demanding his ouster.

Saleh proposed Tuesday night at a meeting with Mohammed al-Yadoumi, head of the Islamist Isiya party, that he hold on as president but transfer powers to a caretaker government until parliamentary elections are held at the end of the year.

“The opposition could pick a head of government of its own choosing,” said an opposition source quoted by Reuters.

Isiya, which was once a partner in Saleh's government, is reportedly considering the offer.

Fury over Munitions Factory Blast
Gender-separated demonstrations have continued in the capital city of San'a, where Shi'ite Muslims for years have clashed with Saleh's forces. Shootings on March 18 left 52 protesters dead in front of San'a University, prompting numerous supporters of the president to cross the lines and join demonstrators instead.

Demonstrators also protested an explosion Monday at a munitions factory in the southern province of Abyan. At least 150 people died and 80 others were injured in the blast. Saleh was accused of orchestrating the explosion to divert attention from the protesters' demands.

However, Ahmed Al-Rahawi, deputy governor of Abyan and director of the Khanfer area, said the "October 7" factory was attacked and looted by al-Qaeda terrorists.

Workers at the factory “warned citizens that the situation was dangerous there,” said Al-Rahawi, “but they did not heed the warning.” The blaze was ignited when several people poured gunpowder out of barrels inside the factory using metal tools, he explained, pointing out that beating the barrels detonated the explosion.

Security sources said about 80 percent of Abyan province is now controlled by the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula terrorist group. In addition, the group's operativest have since taken over the neighboring oil-rich provinces of Shabwa, Marib and Hadramout.

In Marib, one of several areas where the Saleh government has for some time had little power, there were rallies. In Abyan, the terrorists seized armored vehicles and a large number of heavy weapons after clashes last week with security and military forces.

In the north, meanwhile, some 90 percent of the Sa'ada and Al-Jouf provinces have been brought under Shi'ite control. 

Saleh and the Jews
In January 2009, Saleh took steps to protect Yemen's few remaining Jews after the community received death threats from unknown individuals. At the time, Rabbi Moshe bin Yahya bin Ya'aish al-Nahari was murdered in Amram's grand market. The killing drew widespread condemnations from human rights organizations around the world.

Saleh ordered authorities at the time to transfer the Jews, who were residing at the time in the Kharef and Raidah areas of Amran province, to San'a.

Each of the Jewish families was allocated a plot of land in the Sa'wan area east of the capital, near the American and British embassies, and granted some $10,000 with which to rebuild their households. 

A year earlier, in 2008, the Jews of the Bani Salem district in Sa'ada governorate were also transferred to San'a under similar circumstances, after having been threatened and harassed by Houthi followers.