Yemeni President Says U.S. and Israel Behind Unrest

March 1, 2011 - 11:22 AM

Sanaa, Yemen (AP) - Yemen's embattled U.S.-backed president accused Washington on Tuesday of instigating protests against his regime, as hundreds of thousands marched in cities across Yemen in the largest rallies yet seeking the longtime ruler's ouster.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh's allegations, unprecedented in their harshness, signaled a growing rift with the United States that could hurt a joint campaign against the al-Qaida terror network in Yemen.

Saleh's comments Tuesday, including charges that the U.S. Embassy in the capital of Sanaa is giving instructions to the protesters, appeared to be part of an attempt to silence the calls for his resignation. Saleh has come under mounting pressure to step down since anti-government protests erupted a month ago.

Opposition parties joined for the first time Tuesday, and organizers said they brought hundreds of thousands into the streets in cities across Yemen for the largest turnout yet.

In Sanaa, tens of thousands rallied near the university, chanting "the people want the downfall of the regime."

Sheikh Abdul-Majid al-Zindani, considered by the U.S. be linked to the al-Qaida terror network, led noon prayers and warned the government not to use force against demonstrators. "We hail the peaceful revolution of the youths and their legitimate demands and rights," he said.

Yaseen Said Nouman, leader of the Socialist Party, which ruled south Yemen before merging with the north in 1990, also joined the rally. The Socialist party is the biggest opposition party in the south.

About 6,000 government supporters held a counter march in Sanaa, raising pictures of Saleh and shouting "No to anarchy, no to destruction."

Yemen is a key battleground against al-Qaida, and Saleh has been a weak, but important partner for Washington. His government, which receives millions of dollars in U.S. military aid, has allowed American drone strikes on al-Qaida targets.

However, in a speech to about 500 students and academics at Sanaa University, Saleh appeared to be turning on his ally, claiming the U.S., along with Israel, is behind the protest movement.

"I am going to reveal a secret," he said. "There is an operations room in Tel Aviv with the aim of destabilizing the Arab world. The operations room is in Tel Aviv and run by the White House," he said.

He said opposition figures meet regularly with the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa to coordinate efforts.

"Regrettably those (opposition figures) are sitting day and night with the American ambassador where they hand him reports and he gives them instructions," Saleh alleged.

"The Americans also talk with the government officials about this (the protests), but they tell them ‘allow these people to demonstrate in the streets'," Saleh said. "We say that this is a Zionist agenda."

The wave of political unrest sweeping across the Arab world is a "conspiracy that serves Israel and the Zionists," he added.

Saleh accused President Barack Obama of meddling in the affairs of Arab countries. "Why is he interfering? Is he the president of the United States or the president of the Arab world?" Saleh said.

The president reiterated that he will not relinquish power and lashed out at the opposition for rebuffing his call Monday to set up a national unity government. "The opposition is bankrupt and possesses no programs," he said.

Saleh has said he will not step down before presidential elections in 2013.

Tuesday's large turnout at the anti-government rallies was driven, in part, by a decision of key opposition parties to join the protests. Last week, Saleh was also abandoned by chiefs from his own tribe.

Protester organizers reported crowds of tens of thousands each in five locations. A total of eight protesters were hurt in clashes with police in the provincial towns of Hudeidah and Sayoun.