Thousands in Yemen call for president's son to go

June 20, 2011 - 7:44 AM
Mideast Yemen

Anti-government protestors shout slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Taiz, Yemen, Sunday, June 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Anees Mahyoub)

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Tens of thousands took to the streets of the capital on Monday, demanding that the president's sons leave Yemen as pressure rose for the wounded leader being treated outside the country to step down.

Ahmed Saleh, 42, is a one-time heir apparent to his father, who was badly wounded in an attack earlier this month. A ruling party official had said last week the president would return home soon from medical treatment in Saudi Arabia despite reports that he was heavily burned.

In his absence, pressure has been mounting at home and abroad for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step aside after nearly 33 years in power.

His son Ahmed Saleh commands the elite Presidential Guard, the country's best equipped and trained military unit. The force has played a key role in protecting his father's regime since pro-democracy protests erupted in February.

The protesters on Monday called for Ahmed Saleh to leave, along with his brother Khaled, who is also an army commander. Their demonstration led to the closure of major streets in the capital. Most stores shuttered down, but there were no immediate reports of clashes with security forces.

More than 100 influential religious clerics and tribal leaders have called for the president's ouster and elections to choose a new leader, saying he is unfit to return to his post.

Militants, meanwhile, are taking advantage of the internal strife in Yemen to overrun parts of the country.

In the southern port of Aden, government forces early Monday killed one Islamic militant and wounded two others in an exchange of fire near the offices of the local branch of the Central bank at Crater, the city's ancient historic port district, according to security officials. No casualties were reported.

Militants also seized two towns in the southern province of Abyan late last month and attacked a town in a neighboring province last week.

Military officials, meanwhile, on Monday raised to 17 the number of militants killed in fighting in Abyan the previous day and said at least five soldiers, including two senior officers, were killed Monday when a mortar hit their position.

The security and military officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Yemen's political turmoil began with anti-government protests in February. The country is the poorest in the Arab world, suffers numerous internal conflicts and is a potential source of instability for neighboring Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich parts of the Arabian peninsula.

For the U.S. and Europe, the main concern is the al-Qaida offshoot that has found refuge in Yemen's mountainous hinterlands and has been behind several nearly successful strikes on U.S. targets.