Yemen president Saleh to step down; Bahrain acknowledges use of torture, excessive force
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh bowed to opposition demands Wednesday and effectively ended his 33-year rule, turning power over to his vice president in advance of elections early next year.
On the other side of the Arab Peninsula, Bahrain's ruling monarchy pledged reforms after welcoming the release of an independent investigation's conclusion that government security forces tortured and otherwise abused pro-democracy protesters early this year, killing at least 30.
The separate events provided some breathing room for two countries roiled by the Arab Spring uprisings, and for the Obama administration, which has substantial security interests in both. Together with Saudi Arabia, the United States had pushed for Bahrain to put its house in order and for Saleh to leave. Saleh's departure makes Yemen the fourth Arab country, following Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, in which longtime autocratic leaders were removed from power this year.
But in both Yemen and Bahrain, the calm posed new challenges and may turn out to be short-lived.
In Sunni-ruled Bahrain, human rights activists and leaders of the opposition Shiite majority said they were more interested in results than reports. They called for the immediate release of those detained since protests began in February, reinstatement of those purged from government jobs and universities, and the naming and punishment of those guilty of what the investigation report termed "torture."
A Persian Gulf island that is host to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, Bahrain is a key part of the Obama administration's hopes of maintaining a strong security presence in the region after the final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq next month.
A White House statement welcomed the report, noting that "Bahrain is a long-standing partner of the United States," and urged "the government and all parties to take steps that lead to respect for universal human rights and to meaningful reforms that meet the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis."
The situation in Yemen, where the administration has said an al-Qaeda affiliate poses themost active terrorist threat to United States, is far more tenuous. Protesting young people took to the streets as news spread of the agreement signed Wednesday in Saudi Arabia by Saleh and a coalition of opposition political parties.
The demonstrators, who have occupied tent cities for months in the capital, Sanaa, and elsewhere in Yemen, have grown increasingly estranged from the opposition parties with which they had formed an anti-Saleh alliance. Amid violent clashes in Sanaa and the city of Taiz, thousands marched to protest provisions that give Saleh and his family immunity from prosecution.
"This is a betrayal to the martyrs of the revolution who sacrificed their blood for democracy and freedom of this country," said Abdulnaser Kamali, a protester in Taiz. Youth activists called the agreement an arrangement between political elites, and they said they would not stop protesting or leave their camps until the power structure was completely toppled and those involved in killing more than 1,000 people since the uprising began in March were prosecuted.