By Associated Press
SANAA, Yemen—Aides to Ali Abdullah Saleh said Monday that the ousted Yemeni president plans to go into exile in Ethiopia, as pressures mounted on him to depart the country for fear of sparking new cycles of violence.
The news that the longtime Yemeni leader might leave to Ethiopia marks the latest twist in the meandering story of Mr. Saleh’s fall from grace.
Ali Abdullah Saleh hands over power to new Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in Sanaa ceremony. (Video: Reuters/Photo: AP)
As rumors have circulated of Mr. Saleh seeking refuge in a myriad of countries including Oman and the United Arab Emirates, where some of his family is already setting up residence, the ousted president has lingered in Yemen, much to the dismay of the man who succeeded him, the international officials who facilitated the handover of power, and people on the street who want him gone.
The aides said that the former president will leave Yemen within two days along with some of his family members where he will reside in a villa in the suburb of Addis Ababa.
A diplomat in Sanaa confirmed that arrangements had been made for Mr. Saleh’s departure for Ethiopia. Aides said that visas have been issued and Mr. Saleh’s belongings already shipped to Ethiopia.
Inside the presidential palace there were signs that Mr. Saleh’s time in power was at an end.
Witnesses who went inside Monday said a whole hall that used to display precious souvenirs, antiques, golden watches, guns, hunting rifles and other paraphernalia collected under the Saleh regime, was bare on Monday.
A senior army officer and a presidency employee said the commander of the Presidential Guards, who is also Mr. Saleh’s nephew, has ordered his guards to move all the antiques to an undisclosed location. Even alcohol, which Mr. Saleh used to serve to his Western visitors, had been carted away, said another employee.
Officials said that Mr. Saleh came under heavy pressure from Western and Arab countries to leave the country, upon repeated requests by the newly elected president and transitional government to prevent Mr. Saleh from staying in Yemen.
Newly inaugurated President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was sworn in as president on Saturday following an election aimed at ending more than a year of political turmoil. Mr. Hadi was the only candidate. A power-transfer deal backed by the Gulf and U.S. gave Mr. Saleh immunity from prosecution in exchange for stepping down.
Mr. Saleh’s permanent departure from Yemen wasn’t spelled out in the agreement but it was generally understood by all parties that he would find a new home. The fear was that if he stayed in Yemen permanently he would incite riots of those calling for his prosecution and, his opponents feared, he would be able to exert control through his powerful network of well-placed family members and allies.
Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa told President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor, John O. Brennan, during a meeting in Sanaa the night before the election that “…Saleh’s return to the country means another war.”
The Yemen official said Mr. Basindwa has pleaded with the U.S. to get Mr. Saleh to leave. The U.S. sees Yemeni stability as vital to battling al Qaeda on the Saudi Arabian peninsula.
Other Yemeni officials said that members of the U.N. Security Council threatened to freeze Mr. Saleh and his family’s assets if he stayed in Yemen. They didn’t name the member states but one said, “after days of maneuvering, he accepted.”
The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa declined to comment and the Ethiopian Embassy couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Mr. Saleh’s erratic behavior has been a source of uncertainty throughout Yemen’s year of turmoil. He slipped out of signing the accord for the power handover three times before finally agreeing to it.
Mr. Saleh left Yemen in June after being injured in an explosion. He received medical treatment in neighboring Saudi Arabia for three months, and the U.S. had hoped he would remain in the Gulf.
But he returned home and violence worsened anew.
Three weeks ago Mr. Saleh flew to the U.S. for more medical treatment, and again it was hoped that he would remain abroad.
But he returned Saturday for Mr. Hadi’s inauguration.
Mr. Saleh’s aides said he was waiting for an answer from the Gulf sultanate of Oman, which borders Yemen to the east, on whether he can live there, but the sultanate hasn’t responded.
In a farewell ceremony on Monday, Messrs. Saleh and Hadi appeared for the first time together. They pledged to lay the foundation for a peaceful power transition.
“Two years from now, I will stand in the same place to transfer power to [another] newly elected president,” Mr. Hadi told the gathering. Mr. Saleh then passed a Yemeni flag to his successor.
According to the deal that saw Mr. Saleh leave office, a new president and a new parliament are to be elected within two years and a new constitution should be in place.
But the ceremony didn’t sit well with many Yemenis. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets, calling for Mr. Saleh’s prosecution.
“This is a provocation to the Yemeni people,” said Abdu al-Udaimi, a spokesman for the anti-Saleh protest movement. “As if Saleh claims he is stepping down voluntarily.”