US ends support for Yemen's president as troops kill 12
Published 05/04/2011 | 05:00
America has quietly signalled that it no longer backs Yemen's president as the country's security forces again opened fire on demonstrators yesterday, this time in the mountain city of Taiz, killing at least 12 and wounding many more.
Despite America's previous long-standing support for Ali Abdullah Saleh, reports have indicated that the White House has concluded that Yemen's president is unlikely to bring about reform and should be eased out of office under a US-brokered deal.
For weeks, American officials had sought to shore up Mr Saleh even as his regime killed peaceful protesters because they viewed him as a crucial ally in the fight against Yemeni-based al-Qa'ida operatives. This had led to charges of hypocrisy because of the citing of human rights concerns in President Barack Obama's decision to intervene in Libya.
The apparent decision to abandon Mr Saleh came before the latest violence against demonstrators, the bloodiest since March 18 when snipers loyal to the regime shot dead at least 52 protesters in the capital Sana'a. The action prompted defections among Mr Saleh's allies in the army, local tribes and central government.
A Yemeni official told US journalists that the Obama administration's position changed when the negotiations with Mr Saleh on his potential departure began a little over a week ago.
"The Americans have been pushing for a transfer of power since the beginning of those negotiations," the official said, "but have not said so publicly because they still were involved in the negotiations."
Those negotiations are now said to centre on a proposal for Mr Saleh to hand over power to a provisional government led by his vice president until new elections are held.
The Yemeni official said that this principle "is not in dispute" and that only the timing and manner in which he would depart was being discussed.
Yesterday's killings in Taiz were part of an intensifying crackdown against the uprising inspired by events in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere.
Witnesses in Taiz described troops and gunmen, some on nearby rooftops, firing wildly on thousands of protesters who marched past the governor's headquarters during a second day of violence.
During the nearly two-month-old uprising against Mr Saleh, opposition groups have set up protest camps in the main squares of Sana'a and other cities.
The violence in Taiz, 120 miles south of Sana'a, began when thousands of protesters marched down the main street toward Freedom Square, where demonstrators, surrounded by security forces, have been camped out.
Troops blocked the marchers and clashes broke out. Some protesters threw stones and troops responded with live ammunition.
"It was heavy gunfire from all directions. Some were firing from the rooftop of the governor's building," said Omar al-Saqqaf, who was in the crowd.
He said he saw military police load the bodies of two dead protesters into a car and then speed away.
Zakariya Abdul-Qader, a doctor working at a clinic which was set up by protesters, said that at least 12 protesters were killed and more than 30 wounded. (© Daily Telegraph, London)