SANAA, Yemen – Thousands of protesters marched in the Yemeni capital on Friday, demanding the return of millions of dollars that were allegedly stolen by the country's former authoritarian ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The protests in Sanaa come a week after several nations backing Yemen's political transition pushed for sanctions against Saleh's loyalists for undermining the country's shift to democracy after a year of turmoil and bloodshed. The non-military sanctions could include freezing financial assets or travel bans.
Saleh had reportedly accumulated significant wealth during nearly 30 years in power in Yemen, which is the poorest country in the Middle East. He stepped down earlier this year after a popular uprising forced him into relinquishing power in return for immunity from prosecution. Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was elected president in February to replace Saleh.
Over the past months, tens of thousands of Yemenis held protests demanding Saleh and members of his family be tried in court on corruption charges and over killings of protesters during the revolt.
In a statement Friday, protesters called on Hadi and his western backers, to help trace and retrieve Saleh's alleged stolen millions.
Hadi and Yemeni opposition groups claim that Saleh and his supporters are sabotaging the country's transition process, which should lead to a new constitution within a year and general election by early 2014.
Last week, diplomats from several Western nations and Gulf states that brokered Yemen's power transfer deal recommended international sanctions against Saleh's loyalists, the country southern secessionists and members of the largest Islamist group for undermining the country's path to democracy.
The push for sanctions indicates a growing frustration over the sluggishness of the transition and the spread of violence across the country, located on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
Al-Qaida's branch in Yemen, considered the most active in the world, has taken advantage of the political turmoil to expand its operations and seize territory.
Hadi has been battling with the group since he took office. He is assisted by Washington in the fight, but many worry some of the new president's opponents may support the militant group. The Yemeni military launched a wide offensive to regain control over parts of the south from al-Qaida militants.
However, attacks against security forces in Yemen have been on the rise, with six assassination attempts made on the defense minister.
Battling al-Qaida has resulted in displacement of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis and promoted the United States to raise its civilian and security aid to Yemen to $346 million in year 2012, in what a Thursday statement posted on U.S. Department of State described as "the largest assistance provided by the U.S. government to Yemen to date."