Aides to Yemeni vice president blame Saleh for fueling tensions

Defected Yemeni soldiers man a checkpoint to the square in Sanaa where anti-government protesters gathered Saturday.

Story highlights

  • Yemeni President Saleh, Vice President Hadi and their aides hold heated meetings
  • Hadi is to take over as president February 21 under the terms of a power transfer deal
  • Hadi aides say that Saleh loyalists called Hadi a traitor and threatened war
  • A top Saleh supporter calls such claims overblown and blames the opposition
Top loyalists to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh called the Arab nation's vice president a traitor and threatened war, aides to the vice president said Saturday.
The back-and-forth came after several meetings in recent days, some of which Saleh personally attended, between Yemeni government officials ahead of an agreed-upon power transfer. The aides to Vice President Abdu Rabu Hadi accused Saleh -- both of whom are in the same political party -- of being behind the rising tensions, whether by sitting quietly as his supporters chastised Hadi or siding against the vice president.
The vice presidential aides said that Saleh and his supporters appear unhappy with Hadi's actions in recent months, including his steadily decreasing the powers of the president and his most ardent loyalists under the terms of a Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered deal. Saleh supporters, specifically, accused Hadi of digging a deeper hole for Yemen's longtime leader rather than helping him, the Hadi aides said.
Saleh signed that agreement, which gave him immunity from prosecution in return for his stepping down February 21 as president. Both Yemen's ruling party and the opposition have agreed Hadi then will be their presidential candidate and succeed Saleh for a two-year term.
"The vice president will succeed President Saleh in power in less than 45 days, and Hadi will not risk taking sides with anyone, even Saleh," a senior Hadi aide, who asked not to be named given the sensitivity of the situation, told CNN.
Yet Mohammed Shaef, a senior ruling official in Saleh's ruling General People's Congress party, said that talk of differences were overblown and insisted opposition leaders are fanning increasing strife in Yemen.
"Opposition parties are behind the growing crisis within the ruling party and wanted this to happen," Shaef said.
On Friday, a senior Saleh aide accused Hadi of being a traitor during a meeting inside the vice president's residence -- a characterization made with Saleh in the room -- according to a top aide to Hadi.
That accusation prompted Hadi to threaten to leave the capital of Sanaa, separating him from the government's actions over the next few weeks. He could then return in mid-February to take over as president, the aide said.
Hadi aides singled out Shaef as being a major obstacle and stoking tensions between the president and vice president. Shaef threatened war against the vice president and his supporters, if Saleh leaves power, one aide claimed.
But Shaef called such accusations against him unfounded.
"If I wanted war, I would have called for it months back," he said. "But we insisted on signing the GCC power transfer proposal."
He and other senior General People's Congress officials admitted that heated debates have taken place in recent days between aides to Hadi and Saleh, but called the differences minor.
"We differ with the vice president but, in the end, we have to cooperate with him and give him our support one way or another," said Shaef, who besides being a top official in the ruling party is one of the most powerful tribal leaders in Yemen.
A number of senior government officials loyal to Saleh have stepped down under public pressure, including protests that have taken place in front of specific government institutions. Opposition activists have referred to this strategy of targeting government corruption -- department by department rather than focusing all their demonstrations against Saleh personally -- as the "institutions revolution."
"The institutions revolution is worrying Saleh," said Mohammed Abulahoum, president of the opposition Justice and Building party.
"In the end, we all need to support Vice President Hadi in order for Yemen to see the light. We call on all to stand with him for the sake of a new Yemen," Abulahoum added.
Since the president signed the power transfer deal in November, tens of thousands of young activists have continued marching daily in provinces around Yemen. They have denounced the immunity offered to Saleh and vowed to have him tried for the killing of hundreds of unarmed protesters.
"Saleh is scared and he should be. He knows well that the people will not forgive him and the blood he spilled will haunt him wherever he goes," said Sameer al-Ariki, a demonstrator in Taiz.