Bloomberg News

Saleh Says He’ll Leave for U.S.; Syrians Mourn Victims

December 25, 2011

(Updates with White House declining comment in third paragraph.)

Dec. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Outgoing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said that he plans to leave the country for the U.S. and let an interim government get ready for an election that will replace him.

At least nine people were killed yesterday in an attack by Yemeni security forces on protestors marching to the capital of Sana’a from the southern city of Taiz, Al Jazeera reported. In Syria, at least 45, including three children, were killed, Al Arabiya reported citing activists.

Saleh, addressing reporters at the presidential palace, said that he’ll return to Yemen at an unspecified date to represent the opposition. A U.S. State Department spokesman had no immediate comment on Saleh’s plans. White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to comment.

“I am in good health and I will travel to the U.S. in the coming days to get away from attention, cameras, and allow the unity government to prepare properly for elections,” Saleh said yesterday. The presidential election has been set for Feb. 21.

The demonstrators who took part in the march are calling for the prosecution of Saleh and his aides in the deaths of at least 1,100 people since the uprisings started in January.

Saleh said the unity government led by the opposition was a “coup and unconstitutional. It is a government of an 11-month crisis,” he said, referring to the almost yearlong uprising against his rule.

He also said tribal business tycoon Hamid al-Ahmar was funding the protesters, who are demanding a trial for Saleh. The outgoing president said al-Ahmar was involved in the attack against the presidential compound in which Saleh and some of his aides were wounded in June 3.

Tear Gas, Water Cannons

Abdulnaser al-Kamali, a protester, said officials used “tear gas, water cannons and even gunfire to stop us” and said they were being prevented from marching on a street near the presidential palace.

The protesters objected to the immunity given to Saleh in November. Tanks were seen moving near the palace and members of the elite Republican Guard, which is led by Saleh’s son Ahmed, were deployed in the area, according to Yahia Nasser, a witness who spoke by phone.

Dozens of protesters were arrested by the pro-Saleh forces, the National Organisation for Defending Rights and Freedoms, a non-governmental group, said in an e-mailed statement.

In Syria, crowds gathered in Damascus for the funerals of those killed in two suicide bombings as Arab League monitors planned to meet the country’s foreign minister. Forty-four people, civilians and security forces, were killed and 166 others injured in the two explosions Dec. 23 that targeted security-service offices, Al Jazeera reported on its website yesterday, citing the interior ministry.

Muslim Brotherhood

Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood denied responsibility for the attacks, Mohammed Riad Al-Shaqfa, secretary general of the group, told Al Jazeera yesterday in a telephone interview from Istanbul.

“A few days ago, the regime evacuated the employees of Damascus security building and replaced them with prisoners and killed them in that explosion.” he said. “The Syrian regime has created a fake website similar to ours and fabricated a statement saying that the group is responsible of the attack. The regime accused al-Qaeda 30 minutes after the attacks, yesterday it accuses us. It’s a lying regime.”

President Bashar al-Assad’s government, which has been grappling with nine months of unrest, previously blamed “terrorists” and foreign provocateurs for fomenting the anti- government protests. Syria agreed to an Arab League protocol to allow about 500 observers into the country. The Dec. 19 signing came as Arab League prepared to ask the United Nations to address a crisis that the UN estimates has left more than 5,000 people dead.

Arab League

The Arab League imposed sanctions on Syria on Nov. 27, increasing economic and political pressure on Assad. Efforts by the U.S. and the European Union, which also have imposed sanctions, to get a condemnation of his crackdown at the UN Security Council have been blocked by Russia and China.

“We welcomed the Arab initiative, but the suppression and terror are still taking place,” Burhan Ghalioun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council, said in an address, according to footages broadcast by Al Arabiya television. “The regime still incorrectly betting on misleading the general opinion, misleading the Arab League and its observers.”

--With assistance from Margaret Talev and Nadeem Hamid in Washington. Editors: Vince Golle, Christian Thompson

To contact the reporter on this story: Mohammed Hatem in Dubai at; Zaid Sabah in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Emily Bowers at

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