Thursday, March 24, 2011

Protest Fears Force UK Staff Out Of Yemen

March 24, 2011

Britain is withdrawing its embassy team from Yemen amid increasing security fears ahead of further anti-government protests.

The UK Foreign Office said the temporary measure was imposed because Friday's expected demonstrations in the capital Sanaa may become violent.

A statement said a small core staff would remain in place.

It came as Yemen's president Ali Abdullah Saleh offered to step down by the end of the year in a bid to appease opposition groups.

His overtures did little to quell protesters' efforts to force him out after 32 years in power.

Concerns are growing among Western governments that the Arab state could descend into chaos.

Yemen is perceived as having become a haven for al Qaeda - with its longstanding president seen as a key ally against the terrorist group.

US defence secretary Robert Gates insisted it was too soon to determine the outcome of the political turmoil, and Washington had not planned for a post-Saleh era.

"I think things are obviously, or evidently, very unsettled in Yemen. I think it's too soon to call an outcome," he said.

"We've had a good working relationship with President Saleh. He's been an important ally in the counter-terrorism arena.

"But clearly there's a lot of unhappiness inside Yemen. And I think we will basically just continue to watch the situation. We haven't done any post-Saleh planning."

Saleh's opponents have been inspired by the fall of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt.

The killing of more than 50 demonstrators last week accelerated a wave of defections from the regime by the elite - as well as many members of the military.

State news agency Saba said three people were arrested over the deadly shootings and handed over to prosecutors.

Explore the unrest spreading in the Middle East

Since initially saying he would not seek a new term in 2013, Mr Saleh has made greater concessions by offering constitutional change and elections to replace parliament and the head of state this year.

"At this historic moment Yemen needs wisdom to avoid slipping into violence ... that would destroy gains and leave the country facing a dangerous fate," Saleh said in a letter passed to opposition groups in a bid to reconcile differences.

Those groups, which had earlier called for massive rallies in the capital Sanaa on Friday to force Saleh from power, said they were studying the offer.

Source: Sky News

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