- Associated Press - Sunday, June 26, 2011

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.

Mr. 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 chanted slogans calling for Mr. 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 Mr. Saleh’s ouster after nearly 33 years in power. A crackdown has killed at least 167 people, according to Human Rights Watch.

Mr. 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, Mr. 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 United States and Europe, the main concern is that the political strife could open space for al Qaeda’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 Mr. Saleh an essential partner in battling al Qaeda and has given his government millions of dollars in military aid, but the U.S. has been pressing for him to step down to spare the country further bloodshed.