Loved, hated, feared: Yemenis look to future without Saleh


Sanaa (AFP)

He was hated. He was adored. The killing of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh has shocked Yemenis from all camps ?- many of whom have never known a Yemen without him.

News of the strongman's death Monday at the hands of his former rebel allies sparked jubilation, grief and fear of further violence in the Yemeni capital, where clashes between the Huthi insurgents and armed Saleh loyalists have killed more than 200 people since Wednesday.

"Although I hated Ali Abdullah Saleh, when I heard that the Huthis killed him, I cried. It hit me," said Omar Yahya, a 29-year-old pharmacist from Sanaa who has never known a Yemen without Saleh.

A semblance of calm descended on the streets of the capital Tuesday for the first time in days, as the Iran-backed Huthis erected checkpoints across the city.

After nearly a week of violence, Sanaa residents began to venture out of their homes on Tuesday as Saudi-led air strikes on rebel targets came to a halt.

Saleh was killed Monday by Huthi militiamen outside of Sanaa as he attempted to flee the capital.

As they push to cement their grip on the city, the Huthis are still reportedly in possession of his body, raising the question of whether there will be a funeral for one of the region's great survivors.

Saleh rose to power as the leader of North Yemen in 1978 and was announced the first president of reunified Yemen in 1990.

Long an ally of Saudi Arabia and enemy of the Huthis, Saleh reluctantly stepped down in 2012 as protests demanding his ouster turned increasingly bloody.

Two years later, he joined ranks with the northern Huthis to drive the Saudi-backed government out of the capital, which the rebels continue to control.

Plagued by differences over money and power-sharing, the Saleh-Huthi alliance reached crisis point on Saturday when Saleh announced he was open to talks with Saudi Arabia and its allies, sparking Huthi threats and accusations of treason.

But for many Yemenis, the ex-president -- accused of corruption by the United Nations and of discrimination by both northern and southern Yemenis -- was a symbol of oppression, a man responsible for the country's war, disease and hunger.

"Look around. Residents are moving freely at last. The fear, the worry, that used to exist in our capital are gone with the militias," said Abu Ali, a Huthi fighter stationed in Sanaa, referring to Saleh loyalists.

"Thank God everything is stable now and all the militia posts are under our control," he said.

For some, the struggle to come to terms with the death of a man they admired for decades remains unresolved.

"The people of Yemen killed Ali Abdullah Saleh," said a woman who gave her name as Umm Ali. "He rose up for their rights while they were sitting in the houses."

"Ali Abdullah Saleh was like a father to us," said Umm Mohammed, another resident of Sanaa.

"The Huthis killed him," the 45-year-old said. "But there are those who will avenge him."

Yemen's war, which pits the tribal Yemeni rebels against a government backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, has left thousands dead and led to one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.