Tuesday, March 8, 2011

INTERVIEW-Yemen wants $6 bln aid to counter unrest -formin

* Yemen to ask donors for up to $6 bln - foreign minister

* Blames unrest on poverty, says Gulf states support Saleh

* Yemen to present five-year development plan this month

By Mahmoud Habboush

ABU DHABI- Mar 8, 2011- Yemen's foreign minister urged foreign donors to inject up to $6 billion into state coffers over the next five years to help meet the demands of anti-government protesters.

Tens of thousands of protesters are camped out in major Yemeni cities, demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down. Their tone has hardened by the day.

"What we need is really development and economic growth because the present political crisis is really as a result of the economic situation in Yemen," Abubakr al-Qirbi told Reuters after meeting Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) foreign ministers late on Monday in Abu Dhabi.

Yemeni protesters have expressed frustration with corruption and soaring unemployment in Yemen, at the base of the Arabian Peninsula, where 40 percent of its 23 million people live on $2 a day or less and a third face chronic hunger.

Qirbi said Yemen would present a five-year development plan later this month to the Friends of Yemen, a group of donor nations that includes European and Gulf Arab allies as well as the United States.

"The deficit in the budget for the five-year plan is about $6 billion," Qirbi said.

"We hope that the GCC countries with the other donors will contribute really to the development plan and to finance the deficit in the government budget," he said.

The GCC groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Protests have also erupted in Oman, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.


Yemen's opposition said protests would escalate after Saleh rejected a plan for a transition this year in the Arab state, strategically located next to top oil exporter Saudi Arabia. Saleh wants to stay until his current term expires in 2013.

Qirbi said the Gulf Arab states supported Saleh's efforts to engage in dialogue with the opposition in Yemen.

"The GCC countries are supportive of President Saleh's efforts, especially initiating the dialogue with the opposition parties and the youth in order to find solutions for all the political and economic challenges faced by Yemen," he said.

Gulf states are concerned that instability in Yemen, which is home to a resurgent regional arm of al Qaeda that also targets Saudi Arabia, will destabilise the Gulf region.

Yemen was teetering on the brink of failed statehood even before recent protests, with Saleh struggling to cement a truce with Shi'ite rebels in the north and quell a secessionist rebellion in the south.

Analysts say recent protests, inspired by unrest that has toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia and sparked insurrection in Libya, may be reaching a point where it will be difficult for Saleh to cling to power.

"I hope (the opposition) puts the interest and stability of Yemen as a priority for their own programmes," Qirbi said.

"We need a lot of political effort, and this is what's been undertaken by the government and president Saleh, and we're seeing now light at the end of the tunnel."

Source: (Reuters)

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