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Terrorism & Security

Yemen's President Saleh departs for US, apparently ending his rule

President Ali Abdullah Saleh's departure from Yemen probably marks the end of his 33 years in power, but questions are being raised about Washington's decision to take in the strongman.

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Many Yemenis would like to see Saleh put on trial for the murder of hundreds who died during protests against his regime during the past year. Tens of thousands came out yesterday to protest the parliament's decision this weekend to grant him immunity from prosecution in Yemen, Al Jazeera reported.

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The protesters carried banners during Sunday's rallies in Sanaa calling on parliament members to reverse their decision. "It is our duty... to execute the butcher," chanted the protesters gathered in Change Square, the centre of the democracy movement that has been calling for Saleh's removal since January last year.

There is concern that even though Saleh has agreed to pass authority to his deputy, he will remain actively involved in controlling political life there. After his medical treatment, he has vowed to return and lead his party. Additionally, many of his family members still hold high-ranking positions in the Yemeni military.

“What difference does it make? His family still has the military in their hands,” activist Hamyir Ali was quoted as saying by USA Today. “Ali Abdullah Saleh will still be able to control everything.”

But that control may prove short-lived. Already there are reports that protests have spread to four separate air force bases in Yemen where airmen are calling for the removal of Maj. Gen. Mohammed Saleh, commander of the air force and half-brother to the president, according to the Associated Press.

“We will never give up our demands, if General Mohammed Saleh Al-Ahmer listened to us and gave us our rights we would have accepted, but now it is too late, we demands his departure above anything,” Col. Ahmed Saleh was quoted as saying by the Yemen Times.

According to Saleh, [Maj. Gen. Mohammed Saleh] Al-Ahmer stole billions of rials under the name of air force employees’ bonuses, nutrition packs, and weapons. He also deprived them of promotion opportunities for years.

Marc Lynch, a George Washington University professor worries Yemen's stalemate could turn into civil war.

The presidential elections slated to be held in February are widely seen as a sham, even if they are not postponed, wired to simply ratify the elevation of Vice President Abd Rab Mansour al-Hadi and maintain Saleh's power behind the scenes. Such elections do not seem likely to either satisfy the protestors or remove Saleh and his regime from real power. Saleh's family members remain entrenched in key positions in the security apparatus. Meanwhile, as Abdul Ghani al-Iryani noted in December, Saleh and his regime continue to stall, divide the opposition, and play on Western fears of al-Qaeda.

The costs of this political stalemate are enormous.  The mounting humanitarian crisis is reaching staggering proportions. Secessionist sentiment in the south is rising rapidly, while the Houthi rebellion in the north remains potent. Reports of al-Qaeda seizing strategic towns are likely exaggerated, but the jihadist organization is clearly taking advantage of the chaos to build its presence. Real power is devolving to the local level as the political center remains frozen. The absence of legitimate political institutions raises the risks of a complete collapse into civil war.

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