Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh affirmed his support on Wednesday for his country’s unity in the face of calls by southerners for secession, which he said are backed by Iran.
“No to secession ... Our people in the south are with unity,” Saleh said in a rare public appearance in the capital Sanaa’s Sabiin Square before thousands of supporters.
“A small minority which supports secession is funded from abroad ... Those who receive money from Iran know that their days are numbered,” he said, affirming his “support to President (Abdrabuh Mansur) Hadi in preserving Yemen’s security and stability.”
Saleh was alluding to the exiled Ali Salem Baid, who heads a hard-line faction of the Southern Movement that insists on secession and has refused to join a national dialogue set to begin on March 18.
Baid was vice-president of South Yemen, which was briefly independent after it broke away in 1994, sparking a civil war that it lost.
In October last year, Saleh’s successor Hadi accused Iran of backing Baid’s faction in a bid to secede violently.
National security chief Ali Hassan al-Ahmadi accused Iran last month of “supporting separatists and trying to fuel the conflict to undermine the Gulf Initiative,” which led to Saleh’s departure.
Saleh, who ruled for 33 years before resigning last year under the U.N.-backed deal, is still head of the General People’s Congress party.
He organised Wednesday’s rally to mark the anniversary of his handing over power to Hadi.
Retaining the loyalty of some army elements and owning a TV station, he is accused by his opponents of impeding the political process in Yemen.
The U.N. Security Council warned him this month that he could face sanctions for undermining the transition.
Saleh dismissed such accusations last week, and accused the powerful Islamist Al-Islah (Reform) party of circulating them.
His opponents have been calling for his ouster as head of the GPC, and for him to be kept out of politics ahead of the dialogue that has been delayed from November.
The talks will aim to draft a new constitution and electoral law ahead of parliamentary and presidential polls next year.