Monday, April 18, 2011

Yemen Opposition Rejects Gulf Plan as Police Fire on Crowd

By Mohammed Hatem and Peter S. Green

(Updates with foreign minister’s comments in sixth paragraph. See EXTRA and MET for more on the regional turmoil.)

April 18 (Bloomberg) -- Yemen’s opposition coalition rejected a Gulf Cooperation Council plan to end unrest in the country, telling the group’s foreign ministers that the swift departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh isn’t negotiable.

Before the talks began in Riyadh yesterday, police in Yemen used live ammunition, teargas and water cannons to disperse tens of thousands of protesters marching in the capital, Sana’a, injuring at least 100, according to Abdulmalik al-Yusufi, a doctor at a field clinic along the protest route. Thirty protesters were hurt when they were attacked by government supporters in the city of Thamad, according to the online opposition publication al-Masdar.

“We are sticking to our position,” Mohammed Salem Basendwah, head of the opposition Preparatory Committee for National Dialogue, told reporters in the Saudi capital after the meeting. Yemen’s six-party opposition coalition, the Joint Meetings Party, wants Saleh to step down immediately.

Protests in Yemen calling for an end to Saleh’s rule are entering their third month. The GCC, which comprises the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, wants the opposition to accept the handover of power from Saleh to his Vice President Abduraboo Mansur Hadi. The Arab group hasn’t announced when a handover should take place.

Working on Handover

“The president has repeatedly said that he’s prepared to transfer power,” Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi said in an interview in Dubai today. “We have to agree on how to transfer it, the timeframe, the process; so this is what we’re working on now.”

An April 3 plan by the GCC called for Saleh to step down immediately. The council on April 10 scaled back its demands, asking Saleh to cede power to Hadi, a plan rejected by the opposition.

“The dialogue was brotherly and constructive, reflecting both parties’ wish to bring their points of view closer together and continue working and exert greater effort to preserve the republic of Yemen’s safety, stability and unity,” the council said in a statement distributed after the Riyadh meeting ended early today.

Asked later whether the opposition will seek to put Saleh on trial, Sultan Al Atwani, secretary-general of the opposition Nasserite Unionist People’s Organization, said: “We are not aggressive. We are not who will try him. If he wishes to stay, he can stay. If he feels he is not safe, he can stay in another country.”

Women March

Yemeni men and women marched side by side in Sana’a and cities across the country yesterday to protest Saleh’s March 15 comment that mixed-gender demonstrations violate Islamic law. The women chanted, “Hey, Yemeni woman, revolt. Ali is a dictator.”

Saleh said his comment about mixed protests was prompted by “worry for our daughters, sisters and mothers from the mob and anarchists,” state-run Saba news agency reported.

Protesters were stuck inside al-Rahman mosque in Sana’a’s diplomatic zone yesterday, cleric Mohammed al-Hazmi said in a telephone interview. About 30 protesters suffered teargas inhalation while troops surrounded the mosque, he said. More than a dozen people were injured in clashes today between demonstrators and police in the port city of Hodiedah, Abdulhafiz Mujjab, an organizer of the rally, said by phone.

Saleh has been a U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaeda. The most serious terrorism threat to the U.S. comes from members of a Yemen-based offshoot of al-Qaeda, Mark F. Giuliano, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s assistant director for counterterrorism, said April 14.

“Al-Qaeda, where there is a political crisis or political conflict, it takes advantage of it,” Al-Qirbi said today. “They’ll take advantage of it for sure.”

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