Yemen will investigate alleged human rights violations that occurred during an uprising last year, officials said on Wednesday, possibly opening the way to prosecution of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his relatives.
Saleh and his immediate family obtained immunity from prosecution under Yemeni law under a U.S.-backed deal sponsored by Yemen's Gulf neighbors last year in return for the veteran president's departure from office. He stepped down in February.
Thousands of protesters have demanded that the immunity be scrapped. The cabinet decision to set up a committee of inquiry followed months of wrangling within the government.
"The committee is responsible for probing the allegations of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that occurred in 2011, impartially and independently," state news agency Saba said.
A government official, who asked not to be named, said the decision emerged from an intense, five-month-long debate in the cabinet, which is divided between members of Saleh's party and his opponents as stipulated by the power transfer deal.
"It was a fight in the cabinet," he said, adding that the outcome was partly due to a "big push" by the United Nations envoy to Yemen, Jamal bin Omar.
The official said the inquiry would investigate whether criminal charges over deaths and injuries could be pressed. It would be complemented by a transitional justice law which parliament could pass this month.
Saleh's successor, Abd-Rabbu Hadi, was expected to issue a decree setting up the inquiry this month, the official said.
Yemen, an impoverished Arabian Peninsula state, faces a tough transition to democracy while battling Islamic militancy.