“The only reason we are calling for the formation of a presidential council is because we feel the political powers have failed to take advantage of this historical moment when the president has left,” Tawakkol Karman, a prominent activist, told reporters, referring to Saleh’s loyalists.. “So we have taken the initiative.”
The drive to oust Saleh took on a new sense of urgency amid reports Tuesday that the injuries he sustained in an attack on his palace last week were more severe than previously stated.
In the streets of this tense capital, many youth activists see a greater opportunity to push through the democratic reforms they have fought for since launching a populist uprising in February. But Saleh’s supporters dismissed reports of his condition as exaggerated and appeared intent on demonstrating that without him, Yemen will remain engulfed in chaos.
U.S. officials said Tuesday that the 65-year-old autocrat suffered severe burn and shrapnel wounds that would prevent him from returning to Yemen anytime soon and raised doubts about his ability to rule.
“We have to take advantage of this moment,” said Riyad Zindani, 23, a student at Sanaa University. “A chance has been given to us on a plate of gold.”
If reports about Saleh’s condition are true, it could shift the balance of power in Yemen and speed up a political transition, diplomats and analysts said. Saleh’s extended absence would allow the United States and Saudi Arabia more time to persuade him to remain in exile. In Yemen, it could convince Saleh’s supporters — especially his sons and nephews, who continue to hold powerful positions in the security forces — that his nearly 33-year rule has come to an end.
That could pave the way for the acceptance of a power transfer initiative forged by the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council, composed of Yemen’s neighbors — a proposal many here view as Yemen’s best hope for a peaceful transition of power. Even if Saleh were to return, though, his grip on Yemen would be severely weakened by his absence.
“When he is so badly hurt, and unable to function for at least several months, then it is inconceivable that he will be able to maintain power,” said Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani, a Yemeni political analyst. “And the main obstacle in the way of implementing the GCC initiative is now out.”
A U.S. official said that Saleh, who left Yemen on Saturday to seek medical care in Saudi Arabia, “sustained significant burn injuries and shrapnel wounds.”
“His condition is serious, and it’s likely that it will take him a while to recover fully,” the official said. Saleh has burns on about 40 percent of his body and suffered extensive injuries from wood splintered by the rocket attack on his palace, the official said.