Yemen: Saleh and Houthis face UN sanctions

Saleh supporters gathering in Tahrir Square, Sanaa. Photo posted by @omeisy.

Supporters of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh are gathering in Sanaa this morning to protest against "foreign interference" in Yemen.

The "interference" in question is a move by the UN security council, at the behest of the United States, to impose a travel ban and assets freeze on Saleh and two military leaders of the Houthi movement.

Saleh stepped down from the presidency in 2012 after almost 34 years in power but, under a transition plan negotiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council with UN backing, was granted immunity from prosecution and allowed to stay in the country. He has been causing trouble ever since. Most recently, he has been accused of colluding with the Houthis in their military takeover of much of Yemen.

Earlier this week, Saleh's party, the General People's Congress, said Saleh had received a message from the American ambassador to the effect that he should leave Yemen by 5pm today (Friday) if he wanted to avoid sanctions.

The US State Department later issued a denial of sorts, saying "There have been no meetings between the ambassador and GPC officials at which any such statements have been made."

Both claims may be true, since the GPC never said there had been direct meetings – it said the message to Saleh had been relayed through an intermediary.

Either way, the reports of an American ultimatum have given Saleh's supporters a pretext for renewed agitation – hence today's protest. The GPC is objecting to sanctions on the grounds that they would "have dangerous consequences that would threaten not only the security of Yemen, but also that of its neighbours," according to AFP.

The two Houthis threatened with sanctions are said to be Abdel-Khaliq al-Houthi, one of the commanders who led the military takeover of Sanaa in September and Hakim is Abdel-Malik al-Houthi’s military second-in-command.

Abdel-Khaliq al-Houthi is a younger brother of the movement's leader, Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, who was also considered for sanctions according to an earlier report by al-Jazeera but he now appears to have been dropped from the list. The same report also said Saleh's son, Ahmed, was being considered for sanctions but this could be problematic because he was appointed as Yemen's ambassador to the UAE, which gives him diplomatic immunity.

Sanctions would have to be accepted by all 15 members of the security council if they are to take effect, so the GPC's campaign may be aimed at stirring up some dissent in the UN. 

Last year, Russia prevented the security council from issuing a presidential statement on Yemen. It reportedly objected to a paragraph mentioning "persistent allegations" against Saleh and others who receive "money and weapons from outside Yemen for the purpose of undermining the [post-Saleh] transition".

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Friday 7 November 2014