Yemeni activists called fresh protests for yesterday, escalating demands for the immediate departure of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh after the ailing leader said polls would determine his future.
Saleh’s address late on Sunday, in which he called for elections while at the same time said he was committed to a Gulf power-transfer deal which would see him step down immediately, triggered uproar at Change Square, epicenter of anti-regime protests that have rocked Yemen since late January.
“The youth will not accept,” said Walid al-Amari, a leading member of the youth protest committee, addressing demonstrators at the square near the capital’s main university.
“They will not give up until they achieve all the goals of the revolution,” he added, referring to demands that the veteran leader quit power immediately.
Saleh, 69, who unexpectedly returned on Friday to Yemen after a months-long stay in Saudi Arabia for treatment from bomb blast wounds, challenged the opposition to head to early elections.
“You who are running after power, let us head together toward the ballot boxes. We are against coups,” Saleh said in a speech aired on state television on the 49th anniversary of the Sept. 26, 1962, revolution that saw Yemen proclaimed a republic.
“We have repeatedly called for power transfer through the ballot box ... let us head together to dialogue and peaceful rotation over power through the ballot box and early presidential elections as the Gulf initiative stipulates,” he said.
The president has repeatedly refused to sign a power transfer deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council according to which he would hand power to Yemeni Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi in return for immunity from prosecution. However, he said on Sunday he had authorized Hadi to sign the deal on his behalf.
Protesters, huddled around TV sets in the ramshackle tents of their large encampment in central Sanaa, shouted: “Boo! Leave!” in disappointment at his remarks, which were similar to earlier speeches.
“We’re so used to this speech, there’s nothing new in it. He talks to us as if we’re children,” 30-year-old protester Saeed said as he stared blankly at the screen.
Shortly after Saleh’s speech, the sky over Sana’a was peppered with bursts of fireworks and red embers from shots fired into the air by presidential supporters cheering: “The people want Ali Abdullah Saleh!”
One protester pointed to the sky and said: “See, that is the dialogue that Saleh wants.”
Saleh, who has long portrayed himself as a bulwark against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, accused protesters of working with the group and said investigations would uncover who was behind the bomb attempt on his life.
“The attack on him is still too much in his mind and his speech,” political analyst Ali Seif Hassan said. “Revenge will be the title of the act now.”
“We are at war in Yemen,” Hassan added. “Every side is using everything it can ... I don’t see good things coming, from either side.”