33 years on, Saleh faces music

Ali Abdullah Saleh, who once compared his 33-year rule of Yemen to “dancing on the heads of snakes”, formally steps down this week after Yemenis anoint a new president in an election many hope will give Yemen a chance for democracy.

No ceremonies are expected to mark the end for Saleh, who is out of the country being treated in the United States for injuries he sustained in an assassination attempt last June.

But the election, in which Saleh’s deputy Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is the only candidate, is expected to pave the way for Yemen to introduce political and economic reforms and give it a chance to restructure security forces currently run by the outgoing president’s relatives.

Before he flew to the United States last month, Saleh apologised for “any shortcoming” in his rule and said he planned to come back. “I will return to Sanaa as head of the General People's Congress party,” he told senior party and government officials in a televised speech before his departure on January 22.

From January 2011 he struggled to quell big popular protests against his rule as a spate of gunbattles pushed Yemen closer to civil war. The violence culminated in deadly clashes between forces of the Hashed tribal group and government troops. Under mounting pressure, Saleh agreed to sign a Gulf accord in November that was meant to see him gradually relinquish power.

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