Thousands in Yemen demand president's sons leave

By AHMED AL-HAJ | June 26, 2011 | 11:15 AM EDT

Anti-government protestors, chant slogans during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Taiz, Yemen, Saturday, June 25, 2011. A car bomb believed to have been set off be a suicide attacker killed three Yemeni security personnel in the southern city of Aden, the government said, as residents grew fearful of a possible attempt by Islamic militants to seize control of the strategic port city. (AP Photo/Anees Mahyoub)

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters rallied across Yemen on Sunday, demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh's powerful sons and other members of his inner circle leave the country.

Saleh is currently in Saudi Arabia receiving treatment for severe wounds he suffered in an attack on his palace early this month. His two sons, Ahmed and Khaled, both command military units and have played a crucial role in protecting their father's regime and keeping his grip on power in his absence.

On Sunday, protesters in the cities Sanaa, Ibb, Taiz and others, chanting slogans calling for Saleh to step down and for his sons and other family members to flee. Some demonstrators shouted: "Saleh's orphans have to leave the country."

Yemen's political crisis began in February with protests by largely peaceful crowds calling for Saleh's ouster after nearly 33 years in power. A crackdown has killed at least 167 people, according to Human Rights Watch.

Saleh has three times retracted from signing a deal put forward by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council that calls for him to step down and hand power to his vice president. In return, Saleh would get immunity from any prosecution.

Yemen's political turmoil is a potential source of instability for neighboring Saudi Arabia, a key oil producer.

For the U.S. and Europe, the main concern is the political strife could open space for al-Qaida's Yemeni offshoot to operate. The group, which has found refuge in Yemen's mountainous hinterlands, has been behind several nearly successful strikes on U.S. targets.

The militants seized a provincial capital and now are operating openly in the lawless south, training with live ammunition and controlling roads with checkpoints.

Washington considered Saleh an essential partner in battling al-Qaida and had given his government millions of dollars in military aid, but has been pressing for him to step down to spare the country further bloodshed.