One year after officially stepping down, the ousted leader of Yemen urged his country to forgive and forget, an apparent assertion of his continued political role in the fractured nation.
“We call for reconciliation, shaking hands and forgiveness of the past to build a new Yemen,” Ali Abdullah Saleh told tens of thousands of cheering supporters gathered in Sana, the capital, the Associated Press reported. “Forget about the past and look at the future.”
Saleh faces accusations of sabotaging the shift to democracy in Yemen, where the longtime strongman relinquished power in exchange for immunity from charges. The Wednesday speech marked the first anniversary of the transition of power to Yemen's new president, Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, in a formal ceremony. The deal followed protracted negotiations and a year of deadly protests, as Saleh manuevered to avoid prosecution.
The United Nations Security Council recently warned Saleh and his allies that he could face sanctions if there were continued attempts to undermine the fledgling government, saying it was troubled by reports that money and weapons were flowing into Yemen for such an effort.
Saleh reportedly told his supporters Tuesday that he would not be pushed out of Yemeni political life. Allies and backers of the former leader remain in some government posts, despite efforts by Hadi to reorganize the military and other state institutions.
“Hadi's power is therefore hamstrung, since many members of his government served in the former regime and do not have an incentive to help him succeed,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy fellow Daniel Green wrote in a December analysis of Yemeni politics. The remaking of state institutions shows “the quiet struggle for political control is still unresolved.”
The throng listening to Saleh on Wednesday also acted as a strong show of his support. Yemenis hoisted a sea of placards bearing his image as he spoke; the Associated Press reported that a politician with his party told the crowd to “welcome the brother, the leader.”
The transitional government is planning a national dialogue in March to start preparations for a draft constitution. Elections are planned for next year.