Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Yemen: Bin Laden mentor calls for Islamic state: ''An Islamic state is coming,'' drawing cries of ''Allah Akbar''

SANAA: A prominent radical cleric has joined the growing crowds demanding the ouster of Yemen's President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and has called for the establishment of an Islamic state.

US officials expressed concern about the statement by Abdul Majid al-Zindani, a one-time mentor of Osama bin Laden, which introduced a new Islamist element to the turmoil in a country where al-Qaeda is viewed as a grave threat.

The protests that toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt and that now threaten rulers in Libya, Bahrain and Oman have been largely secular in nature.

Yemeni protester chants slogans calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a massive anti-regime rally in the capital Sanaa on March 1, 2011

Mr Zindani spoke on an open-air stage in Sanaa on Tuesday before several thousand anti-government protesters, guarded by 10 men carrying AK-47s and shielded from the scorching sun by two umbrellas.

''An Islamic state is coming,'' he said, drawing cries of ''God is great'' from some in the crowd.

He said Mr Saleh ''came to power by force and stayed in power by force, and the only way to get rid of him is through the force of the people''.

It was not clear how much support Mr Zindani had among the protest movement.

As the opposition held what it called ''a day of rage'', the pro-government camp mustered one of its biggest crowds in weeks of turmoil. Men danced in the streets, waving aloft traditional curved daggers and replacing their opponents' slogan - ''the people want the regime to fall'' - with the words ''the people want Ali Abdullah Saleh''.

Obama administration officials increasingly fear the power vacuum that they believe would follow if Mr Saleh, whose son, nephews and close allies in the Sanhan tribe control the military and intelligence agencies, departed.

Mr Zindani has long supported Mr Saleh, and his defection, which followed that of tribal leaders and a refusal on Monday by opposition parties to join a unity government, was a sign of how quickly the President's patronage system was dissolving, a senior US official said.

Mr Saleh, for his part, on Tuesday sought to put distance between himself and Washington with comments that were all the more startling given America's political support and military aid to his government.

''From Tunis to the sultanate of Oman,'' Mr Saleh said at Sanaa University, the wave of protest is ''managed by Tel Aviv and under the supervision of Washington''.

''Every day we hear a statement from Obama saying, 'Egypt you can't do this, Tunisia don't do that,''' Mr Saleh said. ''What do you have to do with Egypt? Or with Oman? Are you president of the United States or president of the world?''

US officials dismissed the accusation. Privately, officials said they believed Mr Saleh was posturing to hang onto his job.

Amnesty International says the government's measures have left 27 people dead in the past three weeks.

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