Sunday, May 15, 2011

Envoy Arrives for Negotiations in Yemen as Casualties Mount


Published: May 14, 2011

SANA, Yemen (Reuters) — Plainclothes gunmen opened fire on protesters in the southern city of Taiz in Yemen on Saturday, wounding at least 15 people, witnesses said, while an envoy from a Persian Gulf regional group arrived to try to revive a plan to end the crisis.

Protesters have been demonstrating across Yemen for months to try to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh in an uprising inspired by movements that toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. A plan negotiated by neighboring gulf states for Mr. Saleh to step down in exchange for immunity fell through last month when he refused to sign it.

The gunmen fired from rooftops on protesters who were demanding that Mr. Saleh end more than three decades of rule in the Arab world’s poorest country.

Three people were killed and 15 wounded Friday, when troops shot at protesters in Ibb, south of the capital, Sana. The latest killings pushed the death toll since protests began to at least 170.

Security forces on Saturday also arrested Ahmed al-Musaibli, a leading broadcaster who had left state television to work for an opposition satellite channel, witnesses said.

Mr. Saleh, a wily political survivor, has clung to power despite defections from politicians, army officers and tribal leaders.

The secretary general of the regional group, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Abdullatif al-Zayani, arrived in Sana for a three-day visit to try to resurrect the power-transfer deal, which the council brokered between Mr. Saleh and opposition leaders.

Although the political opposition approved the deal, the street protesters never signed on. They rejected the plan’s 30-day transition period, arguing that Mr. Saleh was not serious about stepping down and only stalling for time and insisting on his immediate departure. They also disagreed with the promise of immunity, saying he should be held responsible for the deaths of protesters.

The deal fell apart two weeks ago when Mr. Saleh made it clear that he would not sign the agreement as president, but as leader of the governing party.

Since then, the street protests have continued and diplomatic efforts have stalled.

Mr. Zayani, the Gulf states’ envoy, was to meet with Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi on Saturday evening, a Yemeni official said.

The Gulf Cooperation Council includes oil-rich neighbors on the Arabian peninsula who share a stake in stability in Yemen, where the regional wing of Al Qaeda is based. Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s largest foreign donor, is considered the council’s most influential member.

In the central town of Rada, gunmen fatally shot six soldiers and wounded seven in an attack on a checkpoint on Friday, a local official said, blaming Al Qaeda.

Yemen also faces violence from separatists in its south and a tenuous peace with Shiite rebels in the north.

In remarks published in the Saudi daily newspaper Okaz on Saturday, Mr. Saleh said that after any transfer of power he planned to take to the streets as the opposition and “bring down the government again.”

He said the deal for him to leave office needed further negotiation. “There are some clauses in it that are obscure and ambiguous, requiring better clarification through direct talks with the Yemeni groups,” he was quoted as saying.

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