Sanaa: Aides to Ali Abdullah Saleh said Monday that the ousted Yemeni president plans to go into exile in Ethiopia, as pressures mounted on him to depart the country for fear of sparking a new cycle of violence.
Saleh's presence in Yemen is a major source of discontent, and undermines confidence that his departure from office will lead to lasting political change. Thousands marched against him in the capital Sanaa on Monday.
Many Yemenis will not be satisfied until he actually leaves the country, if then. Saleh has frequently indicated over the past year that he is about to take a step away from power, then backed down at the last moment.
In the latest report, the aides said that the former president will leave Yemen within two days along with some of his family members.
A diplomat in Sanaa confirmed that arrangements had been made for Saleh's departure for Ethiopia. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
On Saturday, newly inaugurated President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was sworn in as president as part of a power-transfer deal that gave Saleh immunity from prosecution in exchange for stepping down. The deal aims to end a year of turmoil that left hundreds of protesters dead.
Saleh's erratic behavior has been a major source of uncertainty throughout Yemen's last year of turmoil.
He slipped out of signing the accord for the power handover accord three times before finally agreeing to it.
Even now, with a president in place, his opponents fear that if he remains in the country he will be able to exert control through his powerful network of well-placed family members and allies.
Saleh left Yemen in June after being injured in a rocket attack on his palace. He received medical treatment in neighbouring Saudi Arabia for three months.
The United States, which has pushed for stability in Yemen for fear that Al Qaida will extend its influence there, had hoped he would remain in the Gulf. But the Yemeni leader returned home and violence worsened anew.
Three weeks ago, Saleh went to the United States for more medical treatment, and again it was hoped that he would remain abroad. But he returned Saturday for Hadi's inauguration.
Saleh's aides said that he was waiting for an answer from the Gulf sultanate of Oman on whether he can live there but the sultanate has not responded to his request.
Saleh stayed in Muscat in January for some days before he left to the US for treatment, and Yemeni officials raised the possibility at the time that he would eventually seek exile in Oman, which borders Yemen to the east.
The aides said that Saleh came under heavy pressures from Western and Arab countries to leave the country. They said that unnamed members of the UN Security Council threatened to freeze his and his family's assets if he did not leave.
"After days of maneuvering, he accepted," one said.
The US Embassy in Sanaa couldn't immediately comment on the report. The Ethiopian Embassy could not immediately be reached for comment.
Also on Monday, tens of thousands of protesters marched to demand Saleh's prosecution. Chanting, "The people want to prosecute the murderer," they gathered in front of Hadi's house.
Hundreds of Saleh's opponents were killed in crackdowns by the security forces and other violence during the uprising.
The protesters were angered by a farewell ceremony for Saleh in which he pledged to support the new president.
"Two years from now, I will stand in the same place to transfer power to (another) newly elected president," Hadi told Saleh. The ex-leader then handed him the Yemeni flag.
"This is a provocation to the Yemeni people," said Abdu al-Udaimi, a spokesman for the anti-Saleh protest movement. "As if Saleh claims he is stepping down voluntarily!"