Gunmen loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh besieged the offices of Yemen’s main daily Thursday after it stopped printing the departing leader’s portrait on its front page, witnesses and staff said.
The headquarters of the state-owned Al-Thawra daily in the capital Sanaa was surrounded by dozens of pro-Saleh gunmen since the early morning hours, witnesses said.
The gunmen blocked Thursday’s distribution of Al-Thawra and demanded Saleh’s picture be put back on its front page, a day after the daily went out without the photo, reporters working for the newspaper told AFP.
Saleh is expected to officially quit as president later this month and cede power to his deputy in a peace deal agreed late last year intended to end months of political crisis.
Anti-Saleh demonstrators meanwhile gathered in Sanaa’s Change Square — epicentre of anti-regime protests since last year — calling for the trial of Saleh, who received blanket immunity against prosecution from parliament, an AFP correspondent there reported.
“Our martyrs have written with blood, Saleh must be brought to trial,” they chanted. “No immunity no guarantee to Saleh and his aides.”
These developments come three days after Yemen’s newly-appointed Information Minister Ali Ahmed al-Amrani escaped an assassination attempt as he was leaving government headquarters in Sanaa.
Yemen’s official media has changed its tone since Amrani was appointed information minister in the new unity government formed on December 7, based on the Gulf-brokered exit plan.
Amrani was a former member of Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) who defected to the opposition along with several other party members last March in protest over a deadly crackdown on anti-regime demonstrations.
Al-Thawra newspaper and Al-Gomhoriah, the official daily of Yemen’s second-largest city Taez, have repeatedly criticised the GPC in recent weeks after Amrani changed their chief editors.
Amrani also reinstated Hussein Baslim to head Yemen’s official state television after he resigned last year in protest against the crackdown.
Saleh is in the United States for medical treatment after being seriously wounded in a bombing at the presidential palace last June.
In November, after 10 months of bloody protests, he signed the deal by which he transferred constitutional powers to his deputy Abdrabuh Mandur Hadi who is the sole candidate for next month’s presidential polls.