Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Yemeni tribal leader predicts president will leave office within weeks

Ashley Hall reported this story on Wednesday, April 6, 2011

ASHLEY HALL: The weeks of turmoil in Yemen continue, with thousands of people joining more demonstrations calling for the immediate resignation of president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Already this week, dozens of people have been killed as government forces have led violent crackdowns on the protesters in major towns across the country.

The president has welcomed an invitation by the Gulf Cooperation Council to host talks between the protesters and the Yemeni government, but he's given no clear signal that he's going anywhere anytime soon.

Sheikh Mohammed Abu Lahoum is one of Yemen's most influential tribal leaders, and a former senior member of the ruling party in Yemen.

MOHAMMED ABU LAHOUM: The protests have been escalating in different cities all over Yemen from Sanaa to Aden to Taiz and the casualties have been increasing with these protests and the bloodshed is also increasing and this is something that we all regret but it looks like the more bloodshed is spilt, the sooner it is for a regime change and I hope that we are in that direction.

ASHLEY HALL: The United States has said that it will continue its military aid to the Yemeni government despite these violent crackdowns on protesters because of the role it plays in counter-terrorism strategies. What sort of actions would expect the US to take; are they fuelling these violent crackdowns?

MOHAMMED ABU LAHOUM: The US, especially in the last two to three days, have been really active and their position in Yemen has dramatically changed and everybody is quite happy with the US position.

In respect to their aid for counter-terrorism I think that this hesitance will go away in the coming days because this is one of the things that leaders in this part of the world, especially dictators, they always say if we leave chaos is going to happen and the country is going to collapse. But we have been speaking frankly with the US and the other western allies that they can be assure that Yemenis, or whoever is to come next, will be a reliable and a serious partner and fighting al Qaeda and all those radical groups.

So yes Yemenis are happy with the US position and the European position and it looks like we are in the last days or weeks, that's the longest, before we see regime change and we hope no more bloodshed will be spilled in Yemen.

ASHLEY HALL: A couple of weeks or a few weeks you think?

MOHAMMED ABU LAHOUM: I think yeah. I mean when I say two, three weeks I think I'm even giving more room but we hope to see a faster, much smoother exit strategy for the president. And to be honest and frank, all of us, including myself, we've all given initiative on how to solve the issues and how to have a good exit strategy but I think the president now he has to give us the final initiative because it is up to him now whether he would like to leave and be remembered as a good man or a less bloodier man, or would he like to leave as somebody like Gaddafi and I hope he does not take the position of Gaddafi.

ASHLEY HALL: He's reportedly welcomed and invitation by the Gulf Cooperation Council to host talks between the protesters and the government, what will the council's involvement bring to the dispute? Will this help or hinder?

MOHAMMED ABU LAHOUM: People are not sure exactly and if you ask me I'm not, I mean, there is nothing substantial. All we heard from the GCC is reports on the media but on the ground we haven't seen anything substantial and here all the parties concerned are looking at the US and the European initiative, which is more serious initiative. They have given good ultimatum that the president and the government has to seriously consider handing over power peacefully within the next week or so.

ASHLEY HALL: Well what are the options do you believe that president Saleh has? Is there room to negotiate or are both sides' demands so set now that there is no negotiating possible?

MOHAMMED ABU LAHOUM: The other thing that is still of hope is that Yemenis are forgiving people and I don't think that anybody is willing to see more bloodshed and it is up to the president and the president has given good signs that he is willing to leave and the opposition are really considerate in not settling scores with him. So the sooner and faster he leaves the better it is for him, for Yemen and for everybody else.

So I think yes, we are all going in the same direction. Any negotiation is a negotiation for an exit strategy, nothing else, there's nothing besides that.

ASHLEY HALL: So the question is then who will replace him? There are reportedly elements in Saudi Arabia backing Ali Mohsen as a replacement. He's the former general turned opposition figure. What are your thoughts on the appropriateness of him for the job?

MOHAMMED ABU LAHOUM: I think what's more important than any name is that Yemenis are determined and Yemenis have been moving slowly and carefully and astonishing thing, or amazing thing that has happened in Yemen is that you see people from all aspects of life, whether on the right, whether on the left, whether in the centre, they are determined to see a process change that does not have any more military individuals, that does not have any more dictators, that does not have anything else but rather a clear leadership, a clear transparency.

So I don't see any chance for any military individual to rule in Yemen, I hope, in the coming period or forever but rather we would see a civilian government.

ASHLEY HALL: You're a member of the ruling party, is it a job that you would consider taking?

MOHAMMED ABU LAHOUM: Right now I think what's more important for all of us is that to see the stop of the bloodshed, to see a good exit strategy for the president and then the conciliation is the most important thing and we have been having good discussions with all groups in Yemen and our direction right now is for a safe exit of this president's regime and then everything else will come later on. I don't think that anybody is in a rush for who's going to take over.

But I assure you, yes, there are plans and they have been studied well and all political parties participated in that, whether the Islamists, whether the left, whether the right. So I think things will turn out to be much better than anybody else expects.

ASHLEY HALL: So that wasn't a no then?

MOHAMMED ABU LAHOUM: Well all options are open for all of us. If you ask me I would like to see a transitional council that will take over for a period of six to eight months until things calm down and this is the direction I hope that we're going with.

ASHLEY HALL: Mohammed Abu Lahoum, an influential tribal leader and former senior member of the ruling party in Yemen, speaking to me earlier.

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