Yemen's largest tribes press president to leave

April 17, 2011 - 0:0

SANAA (AP) – Dozens of chiefs from Yemen's two largest and most powerful tribes called on the president to immediately step down and strip his son of control over security forces, as rival crowds of protesters took to the streets Friday.

The abandonment of President Ali Abdullah Saleh by the two tribes, including one that is linked to his own, is part of a larger crumbling of support for the autocratic leader after weeks of protests against his rule. Several army commanders, university professors and religious leaders have also defected to the opposition calling for his ouster in near daily protests since mid-February.
Saleh has, nonetheless, held on, refusing to end his 32 years in power and waging a crackdown that has killed more than 120 people, according to Yemeni rights groups.
The tribal chiefs who have joined Saleh's political opponents sought to reassure the world Friday that leaders from the opposition movement would “combat terrorism and dry the sources of its flow.”
The 100 chiefs from the Hashid and Bakeel tribes released the statement after two days of meetings with religious leaders, university professors and rights activists to discuss the crisis. Saleh's Sanhan clan is affiliated with the larger Hashid tribe.
Leaders of both tribes had already announced their support for the opposition, part of a wave of defections triggered by the single bloodiest day of the government's crackdown, when snipers killed more than 40 protesters in the capital, Sanaa, on March 18.
In their statement Friday, they called on Saleh to step down “immediately and sack his sons and relatives from their influential posts at the security apparatuses and the army.”
Hundreds of thousands of people held protests against Saleh's government after Friday's Muslim prayer services outside Sanaa University. There were also massive protests in the southern city of Taiz, the port of Aden and in eastern Hadramawt province.
Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world, and protesters are calling for steps to improve livelihoods and open up the country's restricted political life. The protests are the biggest direct challenge to Saleh's three-decades in power. His weak government has little control beyond the capital and has struggled to confront an armed rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south.
Neighboring Saudi Arabia has been among six Persian Gulf Arab nations trying to broker a solution to the crisis.
It has proposed that Saleh hand power to his deputy in exchange for immunity from prosecution for any crimes committed under his leadership. It specified no timeframe for his departure.
Both sides rejected the proposal. The opposition wants him to go immediately and to face a legal reckoning, and Saleh refused to leave before the end of his term in 2013.
Photo: CORRECTING CITY IN IPTCA Yemeni anti-regime protester symbolically hangs an effigy of President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a demonstration calling for his ouster outside Sanaa University on Friday April 15, 2011. (Getty Images)