Monday, April 11, 2011

Yemen's Saleh 'welcomes' Gulf proposal

President Saleh accepts initiative saying he is ready for a 'peaceful' transfer of power in 'a constitutional way'.

Sana'a, Apr 11, 2011- Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's embattled president has welcomed Gulf "efforts" to end his country's political crisis, according to a statement from his office.

"In compliance with statements (he) made several times ...the president has no reservation against transferring power peacefully and smoothly within the framework of the constitution," said the presidential statement on Monday.

But it fell short of saying clearly whether he accepted a direct Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) proposal calling on Saleh to step down and ensure a peaceful transition of power to his deputy, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.

'Within the constitution'

Al Jazeera's correspondent reported from Sanaa "This has always been his position - the key words are 'within the constitution' which could either mean through elections at the end of the year or if he chooses to resign it must be accepted by parliament.

"In which case, as we saw with emergency law few weeks ago, he can easily swing to make sure they don't accept his resignation."

Mahjoob Zweiri, professor of Middle Eastern history at Qatar University, told Al Jazeera "It is very difficult to say that what he (Saleh ) is saying now is a positive response to the (GCC) initiative."

Opposition leaders will be meeting later on Monday to discuss the terms of the GCC plan.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Najib Ghaniem, a senior member of the opposition Islah party, said that "We are only interested in the end to the agony of our people.

"If this initiative means that Saleh steps down, then all issues can be put on the table to discuss later on."

Saleh has been in power since 1978 and faces fierce protests demanding his departure since late January.

"The opposition has accepted the initiative in principle and they are discussing it. But the youth in Taghyeer square have not accepted it yet," Zweiri added.

GCC proposal

The GCC 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".

It said Saleh should hand his authorities over to his vice president and that all parties should "stop all forms of revenge .. and (legal) pursuance, through guarantees offered" - wording that appeared to offer Saleh assurances of no prosecution for him or his family once he leaves office.

On Friday, the president rejected a proposal for his exit, made by Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, Qatar's prime minister, as a "blatant interference in Yemeni affairs".

His defiant statement came after the Qatari prime minister had said that the GCC member countries "hope to reach a deal with the Yemeni president to step down".

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people filled the streets of Sanaa, Taiz, Hudaida, Ibb and the southeastern province of Hadramut to protest against the GCC plan on Monday, witnesses said.

US and Saudi attempts

Diplomatic sources say Saleh has dragged his heels for weeks over US attempts to get him to agree to step down and end protests crippling the country since early February.

Saleh has been manoeuvring to win guarantees that he and his sons do not face prosecution.

With more than 100 protesters killed as security forces tried to break up the demonstrations with tear gas and live fire, activists say they want to see legal action against Saleh and his sons, who occupy key security and political posts.

"I see that now Ali Abdullah Saleh is worried, he is under increased pressure from Washington, from EU, from GCC. There has been a decision made by Washington that he should go, and he was relying on getting support from Washington," Zweiri said.

Long regarded by the West as a vital ally against al Qaeda, Saleh has warned of civil war and the break-up of Yemen if he is forced to leave power before organising parliamentary and presidential polls over the next year.

Saleh had sought Saudi mediation for some weeks, but Gulf diplomatic sources have said Riyadh was prompted in the end by concern over deteriorating security in its southern neighbour.

It followed after Saleh failed to act on the backroom deal struck with US officials on a quick exit.

Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, is the key financier of the Yemeni government as well as many Yemeni tribes on its border.

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.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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