- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2011

PROTESTS TURN ON ENVOY

Thousands of demonstrators in Yemen on Tuesday demanded the expulsion of U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein, accusing him of encouraging a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Yemenis from the southern city of Taiz marched in the capital, Sanaa, three days after Yemeni troops killed at least nine protesters and wounded more than 200 in a demonstration Saturday, according to news reports from the Arab nation, which has been gripped by instability for most of the year.

The protesters denounced Mr. Feierstein for comments he made before Saturday’s demonstration that, they claimed, gave the government a “green light” to attack the unarmed civilians who traveled about 175 miles to Sanaa in what they called the “March for Life.”

The ambassador was widely quoted in the Yemeni media as predicting the march was designed to “provoke a violent response” from the interim government led by Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

“If 2,000 people decided to protest against the White House in the U.S., we [would not] consider it a peaceful act and will not allow this,” Mr. Feierstein was quoted as saying.

Members of the Yemeni parliament Sunday also criticized the ambassador. They condemned his “irresponsible statements, which [were] one of the main reasons that encouraged the regime to attack the peaceful march.” They insisted that the government “considered [the ambassador’s comments] a green light” to fire on the demonstrators.

The U.S. Embassy has declined to comment on the criticism, but one American diplomat told NewsYemen.net that U.S. officials met with the government before Saturday’s march and urged Yemeni authorities to show restraint and meet with the demonstrators.

On Sunday, John Brennan, the top counterterrorism adviser to President Obama, called Mr. Hadi to urge him to show “maximum restraint” in future protests, a White House spokesman said.

Mr. Hadi took over a transitional government after beleaguered President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to a U.S.-backed deal to transfer power in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

BYE BYE, BRYZA

Matthew Bryza, a career diplomat highly regarded at the State Department, bid farewell to top officials in Azerbaijan on Tuesday after the Senate refused to confirm him to a full term as U.S. ambassador to the oil-rich nation in the Caucasus.

Mr. Bryza met with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and with Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, who both praised him for his 11-month tenure.

The Azerbaijan Business Center noted that Mr. Bryza “finished his bright ambassador mission.”

The ambassador’s journey from Washington to the Azeri capital of Baku was one of the bumpiest in recent U.S. diplomatic history.

Mr. Bryza drew opposition from two top Democratic senators and politically powerful Armenian-American organizations. They accused him of favoritism toward Azerbaijan in a bitter and sometimes bloody dispute with neighboring Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic-Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan.

They also claimed he had close, personal ties to Turkish and Azeri officials, and questioned whether he could strongly represent U.S. interests as ambassador. Mr. Bryza repeatedly dismissed those accusations.

Despite objections from Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, President Obama appointed Mr. Bryza during a congressional recess last year. The ambassador arrived in Baku in February but only for a one-year assignment.

As recently as last week, Mr. Bryza held out hopes that the Senate would overcome Armenian objections and approve him for a full term.

“If I were an Armenian, I would support my candidacy,” he told the Azerbaijan Press Agency.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday.