SANAA (Reuters) - Ousted Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh is interfering in the Arabian Peninsula state’s transition process but Western countries are still reluctant to cut him off completely, a Yemeni government minister said on Saturday.
Yemen’s Gulf neighbors led by Saudi Arabia sponsored a U.S.-backed deal that allowed Saleh to leave office in February after a year of fighting to suppress an uprising that left over 2,000 people dead.
The deal gave Saleh and his relatives immunity from prosecution, but recent statements and violence linked to military and security units under the control of family members have raised concerns over the fate of the transition process.
Saleh’s successor Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi earlier this month replaced security officials in an apparent move to reduce the influence of the veteran former president.
“He has not stopped political activity, and his interventions and messages are not good,” Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashhour told Reuters in an interview.
“He should have been presented to justice (but instead) he is spoiling the political process. He wants to hinder us from rebuilding our country.”
Saleh and his supporters say they are abiding by the transition agreement and other groups are violating it.
The United States and Saudi Arabia long saw Saleh as an ally who could contain Islamist militants operating in Yemen. His ruling party has half the seats in the transition cabinet.
Hadi has been under Western pressure to continue security cooperation with Washington, including allowing U.S. air strikes against suspected militants that have killed civilians.
Restoring stability to Yemen has become an international priority due to fears that al Qaeda and other Islamist militants could become entrenched in a country which neighbors oil producer Saudi Arabia and lies on major shipping lanes.
Mashhour said there were signs Western countries had begun to question their position on Saleh and put more pressure on political groups seen as hindering the transition.
Disgruntled forces loyal to relatives of Saleh stormed interior and defense ministry buildings in the last two months. The defense minister survived an apparent assassination attempt this month, which no one has claimed.
The U.S. embassy was stormed this month by protesters angry over an anti-Islam film made in California which raised questions about the behavior of security units under the control of Saleh relatives.
One of Saleh’s sons used Facebook last week to reject accusations that embassy guards had acted suspiciously, saying the Interior Ministry should have sent in riot police.
“Up to now the U.N. Security Council and international community are trying to be political and diplomatic,” Mashhour said, pointing to a Security Council resolution in June that called on all sides to reject violence for political goals.
She said a transitional law due to be approved by government soon would encourage families of victims of Saleh’s rule since 1978 to prosecute him or others either inside or outside Yemen.
“There were serious violations throughout the president’s rule. It was a police-intelligence regime,” she said, adding there were hundreds of forced disappearances. “It’s a problem still going on now. Revolutionary youth have a list of 129 people who disappeared. Their families are crying and saying if they were tortured (to death), then give us their bodies.”
The U.S. ambassador Gerald Feierstein told Yemeni journalists this week that Saleh’s immunity only applied to his actions before February, when he handed over power.
Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Rosalind Russell