Yemen’s embattled president on Tuesday accused the U.S., his closest ally, of instigating the mounting protests against him, but the gambit failed to slow the momentum for his ouster.
Hundreds of thousands rallied in cities across Yemen against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in the largest of the protests of the past month, including one addressed by an influential firebrand cleric, a former ally of Saleh, whom the U.S. has linked to al-Qaida.
“Go on until you achieve your demands,” Sheik Abdul-Majid al-Zindani told tens of thousands of demonstrators in the capital of Sanaa. A former U.S. ambassador to Yemen called al-Zindani’s decision to turn against President Ali Abdullah Saleh a major setback for the president.
Some warned that the current political turmoil and possible collapse of Saleh’s regime could give a further opening to Yemen’s offshoot of the global terror network, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
James Jones, former White House National Security Advisor, warned a Washington conference that Yemen’s crisis “could deepen the current vacuum of power in Yemen on which al Qaida has thrived.”
The Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, believed to have been involved in the attempted 2009 bombing of an American airliner, is seen as particularly active and threatening to the U.S.
Saleh has been a weak but important U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaida, accepting tens of millions of dollars in U.S. military and other aid and allowing American drone strikes on al-Qaida targets.
Garry Reid, deputy assistant U.S. Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Combating Terrorism, told the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank, that the Saleh government was “the best partner we’re going to have … and hopefully it will survive because I certainly would have to start over again in what we’ve tried to build.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Yemen in January and urged Saleh to do more.
However, on Tuesday, Saleh seemed to be turning on Washington. In a speech to about 500 students and lecturers at Sanaa University, he claimed 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.”