Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gulf region envoy in Yemen to discuss crisis

By Mohamed Sudam and Mohammed Ghobari

Apr 21, 2011

SANAA (Reuters) - The Gulf Cooperation Council's secretary general met Yemen's president in Sanaa on Thursday to present the GCC's views on ending a political crisis threatening to plunge the country into further violence.

Gulf Arab and Western states -- long-time backers of President Ali Abdullah Saleh -- have been seeking to negotiate an orderly transition of power to end over three months of unrest.

Protesters demanding democratic reforms in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state insist the veteran president step down after 32 years in power.

A Yemeni official told Reuters GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani presented Saleh with a new initiative, developed after the GCC met both government and opposition representatives this week.

"We welcome this new initiative and we will deal with it positively," the official said, but he declined to give any details.

Earlier in April, a GCC initiative proposed presidential powers be transferred to the vice president until an election and promised Saleh and his relatives immunity from prosecution.

The opposition rejected it and Saleh, who officially accepted that proposal, has given mixed signals on his readiness to step down. He voiced defiance again on Wednesday, saying he would stand firm amid "conspiracies and coups."

"Those who want power or to gain the seat of power should do so through the ballot box," he said. "Change and departure will be through voting via the legal framework of the constitution."

Saleh has said he would not seek reelection when his term ends in 2013, and later vowed to stand down this year after organizing parliamentary and presidential elections.

But the opposition and protesters have little faith in his promises and want him to quit first.

"This speech is to raise spirits, but it's no longer logical because the people have had their say, they say an immediate departure is necessary," said Sultan al-Atwani, the leader of Yemen's Nasserist party, part of an opposition coalition.

"It (the government) needs to prepare for its departure, voluntarily or by force."


Yemeni officials also expect a visit on Saturday from the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates.

Opposition leaders said it was unclear if Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan, currently the president of the GCC's rotating council, would also meet them.

As rounds of negotiations drag on, violence has flared. Protesters tested security forces' limits by marching past the defense and other ministries in Sanaa on Wednesday and burning tires in the streets of Taiz, south of the capital.

The death toll has been rising. Six people died from their wounds when police opened fire at protests in Sanaa and Taiz on Tuesday, bringing the count of demonstrators killed to 123.

The potential for fractious Yemen to further descend into chaos or bloodshed has been a concern for Washington and neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil producer.

Both countries are intended targets for al Qaeda, which has reestablished itself in mountainous Yemen in recent years.

Saleh has warned of chaos if he is forced out of office, suggesting there could be civil war and militants could benefit.

But the opposition, which includes the Islamist Islah party, says it could do better at maintaining control and accuses Saleh of making deals with militant groups in the past.

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