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Yemeni leader lashes out at U.S. as protests continue

By the CNN Wire Staff
A Yemeni anti-government protester holds a banner during a demonstration for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on February 28.
A Yemeni anti-government protester holds a banner during a demonstration for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on February 28.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The White House says Yemen's leadership needs to focus on the unrest
  • President Saleh says Washington and Tel Aviv are controlling protests in the region
  • His mention of the White House is edited out in the rebroadcast
  • A fiery cleric labeled a terrorist by Washington joins the demonstrations
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Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- Thousands of Yemenis marched again Tuesday to demand the removal of Ali Abdullah Saleh as the embattled president blamed the United States and Israel for the unrest across the region.

"There is a control room working for the media and you know where it is -- in Tel Aviv," Saleh said live on state television. "These events are managed by the White House.

"We hear statements from President (Barack) Obama asking the Egyptians to do this, telling the Tunisians to do that," Saleh said. "Are you the president of the United States or the president of the Arab world?"

Upon rebroadcast, Saleh's statement about Washington -- Yemen's partner in a crackdown on al Qaeda -- controlling the unrest were edited out, but not before they elicited a remark on Twitter from U.S. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley.

"The protests in Yemen are not the product of external conspiracies," Crowley said. "President Saleh knows better. His people deserve a better response."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Saleh needs to look inward instead of lashing out.

"We've made clear to the leadership in Yemen, as we have to the leadership in other countries, that they need to focus on the political reforms that they need to implement to respond to the legitimate aspirations of their people," Carney told reporters.

"And we don't think scapegoating will be the kind of response that the people of Yemen or the people in other countries will find adequate."

Saleh's stinging comments came as a powerful cleric labeled a terrorist by the United States joined the ranks of the Yemeni protesters Tuesday, leading them in prayer and telling them to stick to their demands.

Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Zindani, a provocative cleric with a flaming red beard, was accused by Washington in 2004 of supplying weapons to al Qaeda. Last year, al-Zindani made a public plea to recruit millions of young men to fight jihad against Israel.

But in Yemen, al-Zindani is a free and influential man and his support of the demonstrations could prove key.

This marks the first time a radical Islamic voice has joined those calling for democracy.

Saleh also fired the governors of five of the nation's provinces, where anti-government protests have been raging for several weeks. All five were appointed to other positions, according to a decree released Tuesday.

The protests continued Tuesday as thousands gathered outside Sanaa University in the capital. Even members of Saleh's powerful tribal group were among the protesters calling for an end to the president's rule.

In a counterdemonstration, thousands of government loyalists descended on Sanaa's Tahrir Square.

Opposition to Saleh has solidified in the wake of violent confrontations between security forces and protesters Friday in Sanaa, Aden and elsewhere.

Four people were killed and 26 were wounded in the clashes, according to medical officials. Amnesty International said it had reports that 11 people died in Friday's protests, bringing the overall death toll since protests began to 27.

The United Nations' human rights chief warned Yemeni authorities against the use of brute force on protesters. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the government "to protect the rights of demonstrators and journalists under international law."

"We have seen over and over again in the past few weeks that violent responses, in breach of international law, do not make the protesters go away and only serve to exacerbate their frustration and anger," Pillay said in the statement.

Saleh, in power since 1978, has already said he will not seek re-election but his attempts to form a unity government have run into roadblocks. The country's main opposition bloc rejected Saleh's call for calm until elections to replace him are held. The bloc said its goal is simply "the fall of the regime."

"The opposition will not enter a unity government with the ruling party and will stand with the demands of the people," said Mohammed Al-Qubati, the spokesman for the Joint Meeting Parties, on Monday.

Anti-government sentiment is the latest in a wave of problems for the Yemeni government. The nation has been battling al Qaeda as well as a Shiite uprising and secessionist movement. High unemployment, lack of political freedoms and government corruption have also stoked Yemeni anger.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom and Gena Somra and journalist Hakim Almasmari contributed to this report.

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