Yemen’s Cabinet approved a law granting Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and anyone who has worked under him, immunity from prosecution for any crimes committed during his 33-year rule.
Sunday’s decision came as a surprise to many in Yemen, who believed that a power transfer deal he signed in November granted him and his family immunity from prosecution for the killings of protesters, but would not extend to cover his 33-year rule and anyone who worked in government.
The Cabinet approved the law despite nationwide daily protests demanding the longtime leader be put on trial for the killing of hundreds of people in raids on protest camps, the use of snipers and armed attacks on marches during the country’s 11-month popular uprising.
The wording of the law “provides President Ali Abdullah Saleh and those who worked with him, including in civilian, military and security institutions during the period of his presidency, legal and judicial immunity.”
Activists say that the country’s Revolutionary Guards, run by Saleh’s son, are responsible for most of the attacks on protesters.
Yemen’s new national unity government, comprised of an equal number of opposition and loyalist ministers, approved the law in accordance with the transfer agreement that Saleh signed in Saudi Arabia late last year.
The agreement, brokered by Yemen’s powerful Arab neighbors and backed by the US, the EU and the UN, grants Saleh immunity in exchange for him hand handing over powers to his deputy.
According to the agreement, Yemen’s parliament must approve the law as a formality after the Cabinet vote.
Saleh is scheduled to hand over the presidency to Yemeni Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Feb. 21.
The decision to grant blanket immunity to Saleh and all those who worked for him comes on the same day that a security chief who oversaw deadly crackdowns on anti-government protesters was fired from his position, according to a local official.
The dismissal strikes a minor blow to Saleh, a wily politician who some believe is trying to undermine the power transfer deal to retain power. Opposition figures charge that he is still trying to run the country, though he signed the deal under heavy international pressure and after months of stalling.
The firing of the Taiz region’s security chief, a staunch Saleh ally, could indicate that his control, once absolute, is slipping.
The governor of the Taiz region, Hamoud al-Sufi, said on Sunday that the regional council voted to dismiss Brigadier General Abdullah Qairan after reviewing the province’s security situation.
A regional council member said the decision was based on Qairan’s role in the deaths of protesters.
“He was involved in killing civilians because he is the one who ordered the forces to fire on protesters and raid protest camps,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.
Taiz has been a hotbed of anti-regime activity and security forces have at times responded with deadly force.
Saleh moved Qairan to Taiz in March last year from the province of Aden, where local activists accused him of ordering the use of indiscriminate force against demonstrators.
In late May, security forces stormed the central protest camp in Taiz city, shooting demonstrators and setting their tents on fire. More than 20 people were killed.