Obama snubs Yemen protesters
Protesters in Yemen began a letter writing campaign today, directed toward US President Barak Obama. The protests that began in January seek the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Unlike in Egypt where protests were centered in the capital, in Yemen demonstrations broke out around the country and swelled to the millions with each passing week. On Friday, massive protests were held in 18 of 20 governorates around the country.
“Millions of Yemeni peaceful protesters are questioning the silence and the insubstantial announcements by some members of your administration and moreover, overt bias in favor of the Yemeni tyrant. The respected Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, announced publicly that protests in Yemen are an internal affair and the primary concern of the United States is instability and diversion of attention from dealing with AQAP… Yemeni women, men, children, and elders are all eager and confident that they will hear from you as the leader of the free world and that you will support their democratic goals now and in the future.”
In public statements, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates repeatedly stressed the good relationship between the US and Saleh. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “The people of Yemen have the same rights as people anywhere, and we support dialogue as a path to a peaceful solution.”
However, the protesters are demanding Saleh’s immediate resignation and the exclusion of his family members from positions of authority.
The US is lobbying to retain Saleh’s son and nephews who head the US trained counter-terror units. President Saleh is seeking immunity from future prosecution of his substantial financial crimes as well as crimes against humanity and other violations of international and Yemen law.
The US Ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein, has been negotiating between the state and opposition parties. However the opposition party coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), is not the driving force behind the protests and did not join the protests until a month after they began.
Protester leaders, representing groups from around the nation, have issued and re-issued their demands and even resorted to Youtube to send a message to the US ambassador in Yemen.
The protesters’ letter highlights their “aspirations to maintain universal values, and to elect a free and democratic government that will guard and respect the achievements and victories attained by the blood of the young martyrs fallen and slaughtered in the squares of freedom.”
State forces, in uniform and in plain clothes, have killed over 100 protesters and wounded hundreds others. Last Friday 53 demonstrators were killed, mostly by shots to the head, when snipers positioned on rooftops opened fire. Over 150 villagers were killed in Abyan this week when an unsecured ammunition factory exploded, an incident many in Yemen have tied to regime attempts to create chaos.
The slaughter, the broad national protests and mass defections from the Yemeni bureaucracy and military are clear indications of the illegitimacy of the Saleh regime, protesters assert. The transition plan calls for civilian leadership by an interim transitional council.
On Wednesday, Ambassador Feierstein said that the economic challenges facing the country are important as the current political challenges.
Indeed decades of corruption, embezzlement and mismanagement under the Saleh regime, and the diversion of revenue of natural resources and foreign aid, have brought Yemen to the brink of economic disaster. Wikileaks revealed that the US is aware that Saleh and members of his family are also engaged in regionally destabilizing criminal enterprises including large scale weapons smuggling. Drug smuggling, currency counterfeiting and human trafficking of women and children are other lucrative enterprises for the Saleh regime.
In 2010, Human Rights Watch called for a UN investigation into whether the actions of the Yemeni military during the Saada War violated international law. The state’s tactics included sustained bombardment of civilians, and the blockade of food, medicine and international aid, which constitute collective punishment the rights group asserted. Over 300,000 were displaced. Residents of Saada joined the national protests calling for a democratic state and have been demonstrating weekly.