Yemen court orders Saleh quizzed on deadly demo attack

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A Yemeni court on Saturday ordered a new probe into the alleged involvement of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in the killing of 45 protesters during the 2011 uprising against his rule.

The court ordered that 12 other Saleh-era officials be questioned on the same March 18 incident during which the ex-autocrat’s loyalists and troops opened fire on an anti-regime rally in the capital.

They include former interior minister General Muther al-Masri and Saleh’s nephews Yehya and Tariq, both generals.

Yehya is former deputy commander of the central security services, and Tariq is an ex-commander of Saleh’s personal guard.

The court in Sanaa, headed by Judge Yehya al-Ansi, rejected an appeal by the prosecution which said the request to question Saleh was void, based on an amnesty a UN-backed power transfer deal had offered Saleh and his close aides.

International rights watchdog Human Rights Watch urged Yemen in February to launch an independent probe into the “massacre” of 45 protesters during the uprising.

The New York-based group had said an earlier investigation ordered by Saleh into the killings was flawed, and called for a new probe that is “independent, impartial and meets international standards”.

Faisal al-Majedim, a lawyer for some of the dead protesters’ families, hailed the court decision as “a victory for the sovereignty of law”.

Another lawyer, Hazem al-Marisi, accused the public prosecution of siding with Saleh, telling AFP: “We hope the president issues a decree forming an independent investigative committee in charge of this case.”

Hundreds of people were killed across Yemen during the year-long uprising that pushed Saleh out of power after 33 years of iron-fisted rule.

Saleh only agreed to step down in November 2011 under the Gulf-brokered deal that gave him and his aides immunity from prosecution.

Although weakened, the ex-president, whose supporters still wield much influence in Yemen, has seemed reluctant to retire from political life.

He still heads the General People’s Congress party.

Retaining the loyalty of some army elements and owning a television station, Saleh is accused by opponents of impeding the political process in Yemen.

On February 15, the United Nations reiterated a threat of sanctions against anyone who interferes in the delicate transition process, naming Saleh explicitly.

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