Yemen official decries U.S. call for Saleh to quit

Oct 1, 2011, 5:47 a.m.
A boy holds a poster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a weekly Friday prayers attended by Saleh's supporters in Sanaa September 30, 2011. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

By Erika Solomon and Mohammed Ghobari

SANAA (Reuters) - The United States showed a lack of respect for democracy and for its counter-terrorism partners by renewing its call for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down, hours after Anwar al-Awlaki was killed with Yemeni help, a Yemeni official said on Saturday.

U.S. officials said a CIA drone strike killed Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric seen as one of al Qaeda's most eloquent English propagandists, in Yemen's northern al-Jawf province on Friday.

Yemeni security sources said the strike was made possible by intelligence they gathered from a captured al Qaeda operative.

The White House said on Friday Awlaki's killing had not altered its demand that Saleh sign a plan under which he would hand over power. Saleh, who has repeatedly shied away from the Gulf-brokered transition deal, has faced more than eight months of protests by Yemenis demanding an end to his 33-year rule.

"After this big victory in catching Awlaki, the White House calls on the president to leave power immediately? The Americans don't even respect those who cooperate with them," Deputy Information Minister Abdu al-Janadi told Reuters.

Saleh has been seen as an inconstant partner to the West in its fight against al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, sometimes helping U.S.-led efforts and sometimes, his critics say, exploiting the militant threat to win more support from abroad.

"President Saleh was an elected president...They (the Americans) called on us to be partners in the fight against terrorism. The president suffered a great deal for the war on terror. From their position, it seems they do not respect democracy," Janadi said.

Saleh's return last week from Saudi Arabia, where he was treated for wounds sustained in a June assassination attempt, was seen by many Yemenis as a bad omen for any transition plan.

Protesters said the timing of Awlaki's death, just after Saleh's return, was another Saleh ploy to hang onto power.

Yemeni security officials denied media reports that among those killed with Awlaki was Ibrahim al-Asiri, the Saudi bomb-maker believed to have made the explosives used in two foiled plots by the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to blow up U.S.-bound planes.

Janadi told a news conference Awlaki's remains would be picked up by his father on Saturday. "It is not a corpse, he is in pieces...The Yemeni government will not interfere with any type of final rites."

In al-Jawf, Awlaki family friends said relatives were unsure how to mourn a man the United States named a "global terrorist."

"We plan to pick up Anwar's remains and bury them but we haven't decided yet whether we will have an official mourning ceremony or not," a friend of the family told Reuters.

A leader of Awlaki's tribe, the Awalik, said on Friday that a tribal delegate had gone to al-Jawf to confirm the bearded Yemeni-American preacher's "ugly" death.

"Why kill him in this brutal, ugly way?" asked Abubakr al-Awlaki. "Killing him will not solve their (the Americans') problem with al Qaeda, it will just increase (AQAP's) strength and sympathy in this region."

(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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