Saleh urges clerics to work against extremism [Archives:2005/805/Front Page]

January 6 2005

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

President Ali Abdullah Saleh called on Yemeni preachers to discourage extremism and encourage national unity while speaking at the closing of an 11-day re-education course for 350 clerics in Sana'a.

“Preachers must urge people to follow the straight path and avoid extremism and fanaticism,” said Saleh on Jan. 1.

Saleh pointed out the cost Yemen had to pay following the bombings of the USS Cole in 2000 and the French oil tanker Limburg two years later. The President said that when the terrorists attacked the USS Cole, they barred the arrival of ships that would bring to Yemen revenue of $250 million. Which one was harmed as a result of this, Yemen or the United States?”

After the Limburg bombing, insurance premiums skyrocketed for vessels coming to Yemeni ports. To help lower the cost of insurance, the Yemeni government had to put up $50 million for insurance underwriters.

The USS Cole was attacked as it was refueling at the port of Aden. Two men approached the destroyer in a dinghy loaded with 500 pounds of explosives killing 17 US sailors and wounding 33 others when the explosives were detonated. The French oil tanker was attacked off the coast of Yemen that killed one crew member and unloaded 90,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf of Aden.

“The President's words are going to be a significant move in religious speech towards moderation,” said Judge Hamoud Al-Hitar, Head of the Yemeni Dialogue Committee. “The President called on the preachers to renew religious speech towards moderation and prepare speeches before they are delivered. This is part of a series of steps Yemen has taken towards moderation from unifying education to concentrating on dialogue and training preachers.”

The Dialogue Committee, which was established in the fall of 2002, works with sympathizers of radical groups to persuade them to turn away from violence and believe in peace, tolerance and the importance of people living together without any conflict. Around 350 detainees have been released since the Committee began.

Saleh also referred to members of Believing Youth, an organization once founded by Hussein Al-Houthi, who chanted “Death to America, death to Israel,” which could cause Yemen to be labeled as a supporter of terrorists.

Government forces battled with followers of Al-Houthi in north Yemen for three months in 2004 until the radical Muslim cleric was killed in September. At least 600 Yemeni soldiers and Al-Houthi supporters were left dead once the conflict ended.

During his speech, Saleh urged preachers that family planning is essential to controlling the population boom in Yemen.

“I have said many times that family planning shouldn't be perceived as exactly another name for birth control,” said Saleh. “It rather means determining the number of your children and ensuring that your children are the number you can care for and educate.”

The Population Reference Bureau (PRB), a private organization based in the United States, reported last August that Yemen's population growth rate is one of the largest in the world. It calculates that in 2050 the country's population will have increased by 255 per cent, bringing the number of Yemenis from 20 million up to 71 million.