President sacks ministers over Yemen slaughter

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Yemen's embattled leader sacked his entire cabinet last night amid a mounting revolt from within the political elite over his handling of anti-government protests that have left around 100 dead.

The decision came as a third minister resigned from the government along with the ambassador to the United Nations, the latest in a line of high-ranking officials to abandon President Ali Abdullah Saleh after loyalist snipers shot dead up to 52 anti-regime demonstrators on Friday, the bloodiest day yet in a month-long uprising.

The president's office issued a statement saying that he was firing his cabinet, which will stay on as caretaker until a new one is formed, after tens of thousands of protesters turned out onto the streets of the capital, Sana'a, to mourn the deaths of their slain compatriots.

Mr Saleh has denied responsibility for the protesters' deaths – suggesting that disgruntled residents living in the vicinity may have opened fire – but demonstrators claimed that at least seven of the snipers captured were carrying government identification cards.

As the number of resignations mount, Mr Saleh, who has held power since 1978, looks increasingly bereft of political support. Leaders of the country's two most important tribes have now joined the opposition movement.

In emotional scenes, mourners gathered near Sana'a University, the symbolic centre of the popular uprising, as the bodies of more than 30 people were laid out in rows, flowers strewn across them. The killings have drawn international condemnation from the European Union, the UN and the United States, which backs Mr Saleh's regime to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars to help combat a potential-Qa'ida offshoot in Yemen's remote provinces.

Mr Saleh attempted to defuse tensions yesterday by replacing police officers, widely blamed for the deaths, with a lightly-armed military presence around areas of protest in Sana'a.

But the opposition, which had previously sought reform, not regime change, was unmoved, joining protesters in calling for Mr Saleh's immediate resignation.

Mohammed al-Sabri, an opposition spokesman, said: "The president must understand that the only way to avoid more bloodshed and strife in this country is for him to leave.".

Mr Saleh, whose domestic woes include two long-running secessionist rebellions, is also facing defections from those formerly loyal to him.

The human rights minister Huda al-Ban was the third member of Mr Saleh's cabinet to quit yesterday in protest at what she described as the government's "horrible, cowardly and perfidious crime".

Abdullah Alsaidi, Yemen's ambassador to the United Nations, also resigned his post in response to the crackdown. At least 50 officials have now resigned from the ruling General People Congress (GPC) party, according to Waq al Waq, a blog that concerns itself with Yemen. These include members of parliament, judges and diplomats.

Mr Saleh had responded to protests with pledges to devolve more power to the parliament, and to step down when his term was up in 2013. But the measures failed to mollify the opposition, which has accused him of reneging on such promises before.