Sunday, May 29, 2011

Germany presses Yemen leader to sign departure paper

Muscat, May 29, 2011 - Germany appealed Sunday to embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to hand over power and step down, saying the Arab nation risked civil war otherwise.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, visiting the Omani capital Muscat, said Saleh should sign a handover document drafted by mediators from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Oman is a member.

Oman Foreign Minister Yussuf Alawi told reporters he remained hopeful that Saleh and the opposition would reach a peaceful compromise.

'There's a high risk that the continuing violence will suddenly turn into a civil war with many civilian victims,' said Westerwelle. 'Now is the time to hand over power.'

Pro-Saleh military units and armed tribesmen had earlier agreed a ceasefire after five days of armed clashes and were to begin withdrawing their fighting units Sunday from the Hasaba area of the capital Sana'a. The death toll in al-Hasaba was estimated at 120.

Saleh, who has ruled for 33 years, has faced violent protests for month. The tribally divided nation is the poorest on the Arabian peninsula.

Westerwelle, who stopped in Oman before an Asia tour, urged Oman to continue reforms to bring democracy. He praised the reform policies of Sultan Qaboos bin Said bin Said, saying the past 40 years had been a time not only of economic but also of political success.

He urged Muscat to continue reform 'resolutely.'

Pro-democracy protests in Oman have been more peaceful than in other nations shaken by the Arab Springtime.

Westerwelle's five-nation trip aims to boost Berlin's political and economic ties in the region. Arriving in New Delhi on Sunday, he will help prepare for the first joint India-Germany government consultations to be attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel later in the week.

On what is the minister's longest foreign tour to date, Westerwelle will also be visiting Australia, New Zealand and Vietnam before returning to Berlin a week from Sunday.

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