Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yemen protesters vow to stay in Sanaa square

By Hammoud Mounassar

SANAA, Apr 12, 2011- Anti-regime protesters camped at a Sanaa square vow to stay put despite the mediation efforts of Gulf neighbours. "Sorry, Gulf countries, but we reject your initiative," their banner reads.

The protesters, camped at a square outside Sanaa University since February 21, have rejected any dialogue with Yemen's embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who says he is ready for a "peaceful and constitutional" transfer of power.

"We refuse any dialogue with the assailant and the tyrant," says activist Mohammed Ibrahim, from the Youth for Change coalition of protest groups that has led demonstrations since late January.

"We will not leave this place when dialogue begins."

Foreign ministers of the Gulf Arab monarchies have urged Saleh, in power since 1978, to ensure a peaceful transition of power to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi and a national unity government led by the opposition.

Protesters have rejected the proposal, saying they wanted the fall of Saleh's entire regime and for the Yemeni strongman to stand trial rather than to be granted immunity along with his powerful sons.

Saleh has accepted in principle the initiative of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council but without spelling out clearly whether or when he would step down.

He has so far insisted on overseeing any transition, fearful of being dumped out of office like his ally, Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted on February 11 following mass demonstrations.

On the other side of the fence, the protesters are unimpressed.

"We appreciate the initiative of our brothers in the Gulf but it does not meet our demands. There will be no dialogue until after Saleh's departure," says Abdel Malek al-Yusfi, a doctor who has joined the demonstrators.

Opposition groups in parliament have kept reserved, apparently fearful of the reaction of protesters whose ranks have suffered more than 125 deaths in clashes with Saleh's security forces.

A leading activist from the Youth for Change, Adel al-Rabyi, on Tuesday told AFP: "We reject this initiative even if the parliamentary opposition agrees. Our only demand is the immediate departure of President Saleh."

Many students have been carrying the flag of Qatar, a GCC member which has angered the Yemeni regime by urging Saleh to step down, in a move slammed by Sanaa as a "blatant interference in Yemeni affairs."

Thousands of people demonstrated on the streets surrounding the university square late on Monday, chanting: "No dialogue, no dialogue, (Saleh's) departure is the solution."

The anti-Saleh protesters have also distributed leaflets calling for a two-hour strike on Wednesday to step up "pressure against the corrupt regime and accelerate its fall."

On Tuesday, massive demonstrations took place in Taez and Ibb, south of Sanaa, at which protesters chanted slogans rejecting the Gulf initiative, local residents said.

In Yemen's southern capital of Aden, protesters who have staged a sit-in at five different squares across the port city are also adamant that nothing short of Saleh's departure will resolve the crisis.

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