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Yemen cabinet approves amnesty law for Saleh

By Hakim Almasmari, For CNN
updated 6:20 AM EST, Mon January 9, 2012
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh speaks during a meeting with leaders of his ruling party in Sanaa on December 7, 2011.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh speaks during a meeting with leaders of his ruling party in Sanaa on December 7, 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Prime Minister says the immunity bill will help Yemen avoid bloodshed
  • NEW: Lawmakers argue about nominating Hadi as their presidential candidate
  • Parliament will have to approve the draft for it to become law
  • Thousands protests in provinces against the proposal

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- The Yemeni cabinet has approved the draft of a law that will give President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his aides immunity from prosecution.

The draft was submitted to parliament for approval and is expected to be approved within days, said Yahya al-Arasi, a senior vice presidential aide.

Ghaleb al-Odaini, the spokesman for the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), said the law will pass but expect lawmakers to make changes to it before approving it.

Under the terms of a Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered deal, Saleh has agreed to step down as president on February 21 in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

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The law, if approved in its current form, will also give immunity to officials who worked under Saleh during his 33-year rule.

A day after the draft was approved, thousands of protesters rallied Monday in more than a dozen provinces against the proposal.

Some waved banners that showed a picture of Saleh holding a butcher knife in his bloodied hands.

Others, however, saw the merit in the proposal.

"We are against the immunity bill, but it will play a big role in ending the Saleh family rule in Yemen and give us a chance to build a new nation," said Abdullah al-Kuraimi, a youth activist in Sanaa.

Yemen's Prime Minister Mohammed Basendowah defended the immunity bill saying that it will help Yemen avoid violence through the immunity.

"We granted President Saleh immunity to rid the country from a civil war or possible bloodshed," he said.

He said it was a necessary political solution.

"For those who think a revolution can force Saleh out of power, they can try," he said.

Senior Saleh aides said the president will head to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment after he steps down.

Meanwhile, parliamentarians argued vehemently Monday with Saleh's aides refusing to accept Vice President Abdu Rabu Hadi as the unified candidate for the February 21 presidential elections.

Sultan Barakani, the head of the ruling General People Congress bloc in parliament, said discussions on Hadi should be delayed until February, giving time for Saleh's immunity law to pass.

Aides to Hadi have accused Saleh -- both of whom are in the same political party -- of being behind the rising tensions, whether by sitting quietly as his supporters chastised Hadi or siding against the vice president.

The vice presidential aides said that Saleh and his supporters appear unhappy with Hadi's actions in recent months, including his steadily decreasing the powers of the president and his most ardent loyalists.

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