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Yemeni parliament grants President Saleh full immunity from prosecution

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The Yemeni parliament gave unanimous approval on Saturday to a law which will grant President Ali Abdullah Saleh immunity from prosecution in return for stepping down under a Gulf-brokered transition deal.

The law adopted gives Saleh, in power since 1978, “complete” immunity, and also offers partial protection from legal action to his aides.

Separately, Saleh will also soon visit Oman, Ethiopia and then New York to undergo medical tests, Al Arabiya correspondent reported on Saturday. Saleh suffered injuries in a bomb attack in Sana’a last June and left for Saudi Arabia thereafter to seek treatment.

Amendments

The transitional government of national unity, which is led by the parliamentary opposition, had submitted 11th-hour amendments on Friday sharply reducing the scope of the amnesty offered to Saleh’s lieutenants following a public outcry.

The immunity pledge, which was a key element of the hard-won Gulf deal that Saleh signed in November, has been strongly criticized by Western human rights groups and the office of the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner.

The new version “grants complete immunity to President Saleh” but his assistants will only benefit from “political immunity” and could eventually be held accountable for criminal or terrorist acts, AFP reported a government source as saying on Friday.

The amended bill, adopted by the government on Thursday during an extraordinary meeting, also provides for the ratification of “laws on national reconciliation and transitional justice.”

The original version, submitted on January 8, would have granted amnesty against prosecution to Saleh and the aides “who worked with him in all government, civil and military departments during the years of his rule.”

In November, Saleh signed a Gulf-brokered deal to end the political crisis in the impoverished country, under which he handed authority to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi and the opposition formed a national unity government.

Saleh serves now as an honorary president until polls are held in February to elect Mansur, the sole candidate, as his interim successor for two years.

A bloody crackdown on anti-Saleh demonstrations since January 2011 has claimed hundreds of lives.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said earlier this month that anyone who had committed abuses during the mass protests in Yemen must not be allowed to evade justice.

The U.N. commissioner urged decision-makers in Yemen to respect the prohibition in international law against amnesties for gross human rights violations.

A senior official in Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party, Sultan al-Barakani, said on Wednesday that February’s vote would be held on time, amid rumors of a possible delay.

Meanwhile, parliament was scheduled to vote on the amended bill, and on Mansur’s presidential candidacy, on Monday, he added.

Nobel Peace Prize winner

Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakul Karman said that Saleh and his inner circle must be barred from power for good if the country is to have any chance of restoring stability.

In an interview late on Thursday, Karman, who has been abroad since traveling to Oslo to receive the prize, said the immunity Yemen’s interim government was set to grant Saleh and his men to help ease him out of office should be accompanied by a ban on them holding official positions.

“Saleh and his family may have been spared from prosecution but they have to be removed from positions of power,” said Karman, who met supporters bearing flowers and hand-drawn portraits of her in the Yemeni capital.

“If there is to be any chance of successful transition in Yemen these men must leave politics altogether.”

Karman was greeted by thousands of protesters as she marched into Change Square flanked by a group of women wearing black veils, and urged her audience to escalate the protests.

A key task of the interim government - split between Saleh loyalists and opposition parties - is to oversee demilitarization of Yemen’s cities, where pro-Saleh forces including ones led by his son and nephew have fought foes.

Restructuring of the military is supposed to follow the demilitarization but the capital remains heavily armed, despite the removal of some makeshift checkpoints and a return of some army units to their barracks.