Tue Apr 12, 2011
* Gulf states say Saleh should hand power to vice-president
* Opposition wants clarification, fear a Saleh manoeuvre
* Saleh accepts plan, says could resign via "constitution"
By Mohamed Sudam and Mohammed Ghobari
SANAA, April 12 (Reuters) - Yemen opposition parties on Tuesday urged Gulf mediators to spell out whether President Ali Saleh would hand over power early under their proposal to end a two-month crisis over leadership and political reforms.
Gulf Arab foreign ministers said this week they would invite Saleh and the opposition coalition to mediation talks in Riyadh, a key financier of Sanaa who analysts say Saleh trusts, on a transition of power.
The opposition said on Monday they rejected the Gulf Cooperation Council statement on the framework for the talks because it appeared to offer Saleh a waiver from any future prosecutions, demanded by the protest movement in the streets of Sanaa since February.
Opposition spokesman Mohammed Qahtan said on Tuesday the parties also had concerns over the phrase "transfer of power", which does not specify the timeframe for Saleh to step down. Protesters and the opposition are demanding an immediate exit.
"The Gulf states need to clarify the meaning of the transition of power," he told Al Arabiya TV, adding Gulf states had not yet set a date for their talks invitation.
"We are awaiting their call ... We have not received (a date), we are awaiting their call, (to see) if there is a new suggestion from them."
Saleh accepted the Gulf framework, after state media initially suggested the government would reject it.
"He (Saleh) has no reservations about transferring power peacefully within the framework of the constitution," a statement from Saleh's office said on Monday.
A transfer of power could technically last until the next presidential elections scheduled for 2013. Saleh has offered new parliamentary and presidential elections this year as part of political reforms, but says he should stay in power to oversee the change or hand over to what he calls "safe hands".
While protesters want Saleh out now, some in the opposition, which includes Islamists, leftists and Arab nationalists, are prepared for him to stay in power for several months more before handing over to his vice-president.
General Ali Mohsen, a kinsman of Saleh whose units are protecting protesters in Sanaa, has welcomed the GCC plan.
SALEH OUTFOXES OPPONENTS?
But the opposition are worried that Saleh, a shrewd political operator who has been in power since 1978, will still control the process even if he agrees to stand down immediately after mediation talks in Riyadh.
Saleh's deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has said he is not interested in taking over even temporarily, which could open the way for Saleh to nominate an interim successor of his own choice.
Saleh chaired a meeting of coalition party allies on Tuesday that blamed the opposition for the ongoing protests and civil disobedience in cities throughout the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state.
More than 100 people have died in clashes with security forces since February that escalated last week. Tens of thousands filled the streets of Sanaa, Taiz, Hudaida, Ibb and the southeastern province of Hadramaut on Monday to protest against the Gulf plan. Saleh has used Friday prayers to bring his own supporters who he says outnumber those of his opponents.
Twelve Islamist militants and four soldiers died in clashes on Monday in the southern province of Abyan, seen as a hotbed of al Qaeda activity, government sources said.
The Gulf statement on Sunday talked of "the formation of a national unity government under the leadership of the opposition which has the right to form committees ... to draw up a constitution and hold elections".
Diplomatic sources say Saleh has dragged his heels for weeks over U.S. attempts to get him to agree to step down and end protests crippling the country since early February, manoeuvring to win guarantees that he and his sons do not face prosecution.
He had sought Saudi mediation, but Gulf diplomatic sources said Riyadh was prompted in the end by concern over the deteriorating security in its southern neighbour after Saleh failed to act on a backroom deal struck with U.S. officials on a quick exit.
Saudi Arabia and Western countries had for many years backed Saleh as their man to fight al Qaeda militants, who have used Yemen as a base to launch attacks on Saudi and U.S. territory.
Countries of the region became convinced that Saleh is an obstacle to stability in a country that overlooks a shipping lane where over 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.
Even before the protests inspired by the toppling of the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents, Saleh was struggling to quell a separatist rebellion in the south and a Shi'ite Muslim insurgency in the north -- violence that has given the Arabian Peninsula branch of al Qaeda more room to operate.