Saturday, April 23, 2011

Yemen peace plan requires Saleh to resign

By FT Reporters

April 23 2011

A proposed deal to end Yemen’s long-running crisis hung in the balance on Friday as regime supporters and opponents fought each other and among themselves over a proposal for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stand down within two months.

While Mr Saleh made a qualified pledge to “work with” the plan put forward by the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council, officials on both sides of the political divide have sent out mixed messages about whether they would accept the agreement.

The Gulf initiative and the turmoil it has provoked highlight the volatility and regional importance of a country that is the poorest in the Arab world and has become a haven for terrorists despite Mr Saleh’s co-operation with the US.

The deal calls for the formation within a week of a national unity government including Mr Saleh’s party, but headed by the main opposition bloc, pending presidential elections with­in two months.

The proposal would “work on ending the political and security crisis within 30 days”, after which the president would resign, a senior government official told the Financial Times. He added that the ruling party had accepted the plan “without reservation”.

But Mr Saleh offered a cooler reaction, telling tens of thousands of loyalists gathered before his palace only that he would “work with the Gulf initiative, within the framework of the Yemeni constitution”.

Western countries are now relying on the Gulf council to secure a peaceful transfer of power and end Yemen’s 10-week uprising, in which more than 130 protesters have been killed. A UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday called by Germany failed to issue a condemnation of the violence, amid objections by Russia and China.

Yemen’s diverse opposition coalition has its own internal conflicts between the desires of a largely leaderless youth movement, which wants Mr Saleh and all trappings of his regime gone, and the prospect offered by the GCC of unseating the ruling party for the first time in the country’s history.

Some protesters argue that opposition leaders, many of whom are former allies of Mr Saleh, have no right to offer concessions. “The opposition talks as if they own the street, but we might have to overthrow them too,” said Farea al-Muslimi, a youth activist.

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