Saturday, April 30, 2011

Yemen power transition deal faces last-minute snag

By Mohamed Sudam and Mohammed Ghobari

SANAA, Apr 30, 2011 (Reuters) - A deal to end Yemen's political crisis hit a potential snag on Saturday as doubts were raised about whether President Ali Abdullah Saleh would personally sign an agreement that would have him quit power within a month.

But the country's main opposition coalition said it still hoped wealthy Gulf states who brokered the deal would be able to ensure a signature by Saleh, a shrewd political survivor who has faced three months of pro-democracy protests seeking his ouster.

"Until now, we still have hope that the efforts of the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council will succeed in persuading the president to sign," a prominent opposition leader told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Saleh, who has ruled the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state for nearly 33 years, had been due to sign the deal on Saturday in an agreement that, if implemented, would make him the third Arab ruler ousted by a wave of popular uprisings.

But in a last-minute wrinkle, a government official said talks were under way within the ruling party on whether Saleh would personally sign or leave it to senior members of his party. Such a move could throw the entire deal into doubt.

"There is discussion on the matter at the moment," the official said. Other officials previously said repeatedly that Saleh would sign on Saturday.

The United States and neighboring oil giant Saudi Arabia want the Yemen standoff resolved to avert chaos that could enable al Qaeda's Yemen wing to operate more freely.

Saleh has in principle accepted the agreement negotiated by his oil-exporting GCC neighbors.

Yemen's mainstream opposition, which includes both Islamists and leftists, has also agreed to the deal, even as street protesters have rejected the agreement and demand Saleh step down immediately and face prosecution.

Saleh, long considered a U.S. ally against al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, had already forced mediators to split the signing ceremonies over two days and has objected to the presence of Qatari officials.

Qatar's prime minister was first to state publicly the Gulf deal would seek Saleh's resignation, and its satellite TV channel Al Jazeera has been accused by Saleh of inciting revolt in the Arab world, now swept by pro-democracy demonstrations.

While the Yemeni leader was due to sign the pact in Sanaa, his party's vice president will travel to the Saudi capital Riyadh for Sunday's official signing ceremony by the opposition, which has warned that further bloodshed could derail the deal.


Violence broke out in south Yemen ahead of the expected signing when gunmen killed two police officers and wounded two more in the port city of Aden, state media said. Witnesses said the gunmen had attacked a police station. Gunfire also erupted outside a nearby prison.

Shortly afterward, security forces moved in to break up an anti-government protest in the same neighborhood, killing two protesters and wounding 50 more, said Qassim Jamil, a doctor.

Protesters fled the scene, and tanks and armored vehicles were patrolling the streets, the witnesses said. The wounded were being taken to nearby hotels for treatment because they could not reach hospitals, Jamil said.

Analysts say the government, which has been trying to contain separatists in the south and Shi'ite rebels in the north, fears secessionists may be trying to take advantage of Yemen's leadership crisis to renew a push for separation.

Protesters say they will stay on the streets until Saleh leaves. They also called for him to be put on trial for corruption and the deaths of the estimated 144 protesters killed since rallies began three months ago.

The GCC deal offers Saleh and his entourage, including relatives who run branches of the security forces, immunity from prosecution.

"The people want the trial of the murderer!" some anti-Saleh demonstrators shouted at a protest on Friday that ended in a funeral march for 12 protesters killed on Wednesday, thousands passing their wooden coffins from hand to hand to their graves.

Analysts say a 30-day window for Saleh to resign gives plenty of time for disgruntled forces from the old guard to stir trouble in Yemen, where half the population owns a gun and al Qaeda has gained a foothold in its mountainous regions.

Should the deal go through, Saleh would appoint a prime minister from the opposition to head a transitional government, which would set a presidential vote for 60 days after he leaves.

Many protesters, wary of the opposition due to its presence in government in past years, urged it to back out of the deal.

"They wouldn't lose anything because Saleh isn't going to stick to the agreement. If he can't find a reason to overturn it he'll spark a war," Sanaa protester Abdulsalam Mahmoud said.

Talks ongoing on whether Saleh will sign Yemen deal

SANAA, Apr 30, 2011 (Reuters) - Discussions are still underway in Yemen on whether President Ali Abdullah Saleh will sign a transition deal that would see him cede power within a month or leave ratification to the ruling party, a government official said on Saturday.

"There is discussion on the matter at the moment," the official told Reuters. The discussion centered on whether Saleh would sign at all and, if so, in what capacity.

Six killed in south Yemen strike

ADEN, Apr 30, 2011- Two servicemen and four civilians were killed and at least another 23 were wounded in south Yemen during a shutdown called by anti-government protesters on Saturday, officials said.

The defence ministry said an officer and a soldier were killed and two more soldiers were wounded, but gave no further details as tension mounted in the restive region.

Local officials said protesters opened fire on troops as they tried to dismantle roadblocks set up near Al-Mansura neighbourhood in Aden to demonstrate against the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Two soldiers and a civilian were wounded there, they said.

They said troops moved into the area from where they suspected the attack was launched and opened fire, killing at least three civilians and wounding at least another 15 more.

The casualties were taken to a hospital in Aden, the south's main port city, a medical source said. -- AFP

Yemen's Saleh due to sign transition deal to quit power


SANAA, Apr 30, 2011- Yemen's president was to sign an agreement on Saturday to quit power in a month's time in exchange for immunity, a deal rejected by street protesters demanding his immediate ouster and prosecution.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state for nearly 33 years, has in principle accepted the agreement negotiated by the six-state member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Saleh Will not Travel to Saudi Arabia

By Fatik Al-Rodaini

Sana'a, Apr 30, 2011- Yemen's ruling party said on Saturday that President Ali Abdullah Saleh he will not sign the GCC initiative, but will send his political adviser, Dr. Abdul Karim Al-Eriani in favor of him to sign.

The ruling General People Congress party's mentioned in a statement that Al-Eriani will head the delegation to Riyadh.

The statement confirmed time that President Saleh will not attend the ceremony.

The speaksman of the opposition coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties, JMP, Mohamed Kahtan said that president Saleh himself should sign in the GCC initiative.

Meanwhile, the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) arrived in Sana'a Saturday ahead of the signing of a power transition deal that aims at ending the unrest that gripped the country for over two months.

Under the deal, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, his aides and family would be guaranteed immunity from prosecution. Saleh, who has been in power for 32 years, would also remain on as head of the ruling party.

A transfer of power to his vice president would take place within 30 days of the signing, followed by presidential elections within two months and the formation of a unity government.

The GCC head Abdullatif al- Zayani will invite representatives of the Yemeni government and opposition for the signing ceremony provisionally scheduled for Monday in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.