Yemen’s parliament approved immunity on Saturday to free Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh from prosecution, following through on a requirement in a deal for him to give up power.
The lawmakers extended the legislation to grant immunity for politically motivated crimes committed by all officials working under Saleh, according to the state-run Saba news agency.
The agreement, though internationally endorsed and struck between Saleh and opposition leaders in November, remained controversial with critics who say he should be punished for acts during his 33 years as president, including what antigovernment protesters and Human Rights Watch say was the killing of hundreds of demonstrators by his security forces.
Saleh had already handed over some authority to Yemeni Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, whom, according to Saba, the parliament nominated on Saturday as the consensus candidate for an early presidential election, scheduled for Feb. 21. The move had been expected, and thus far, Hadi was the only official candidate. Yemeni officials recently expressed concern that elections could be postponed because of the chaotic state of the country.
The upheaval was Saleh’s explanation two weeks ago for saying he would remain in Yemen rather than go to the US for medical treatment. Calming that was a reason cited Dec. 24 when he announced that he would make the trip.
Yemeni officials now say he will soon be traveling to the US, but plans to stop first in Oman.
He will leave “in the coming days,” one official said. A high-ranking official close to the president confirmed that Saleh would return to Yemen after his treatment. Neither would say why Saleh would be stopping in Oman; they both spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the news media.
Saleh was severely injured in a bombing at his palace’s mosque in June last year. US President Barack Obama’s administration has granted him permission to travel to the US for surgery. According to Saba, the immunity law cannot be canceled or appealed. However, Saleh and his government can still be prosecuted outside Yemen, by the International Criminal Court, for instance.
Meanwhile, thousands of Yemenis in Sana’a yesterday protested against the immunity law and demanded Salah be put on trial for offences they say he committed during his 33-year rule.
Protesters were also angered by reports Salah would not leave Yemen permanently. Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakul Karman said Saleh and his inner circle must be barred from returning to power if the country was to have any chance of restoring stability.
Additional reporting by Reuters