Friday, May 6, 2011

Yemen's Saleh vows to resist 'outlaw' protesters

SANAA, May 6, 2011- (AFP) Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told a mass rally of supporters on Friday that he would resist calls to quit, describing as "outlaws" tens of thousands of protesters gathered a short distance away.

"I can assure you that I will resist," Saleh told the crowd in the capital Sanaa's Sabbine Square after taking part in the main weekly Muslim prayers at nearby Tahrir Square.

He hit out at the protesters who have been demanding that he step down immediately and said he would "strongly defend the constitution." His current term of office ends in 2013.

Protests demanding his departure has led to the deaths of 150 people since late January and efforts of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to broker a peaceful transition in Yemen remains stalled.

Saleh's rivals gathered for what they called the "Friday for the loyalty of the people in the south," while regime loyalists marked "Friday for security and stability."

At the Place of Change, the epicentre of the protests against Saleh, large crowds demanded his immediate exit and that he be brought to trial. There were no immediate reports of clashes between the two demonstrations.

"The people want to try the executioner," the crowds chanted.

A similar rally calling for Saleh's departure was held in Taez, the second largest city of Yemen, located 200 kilometres (125 miles) south of Sanaa, witnesses said.

The latest show of strength came as the GCC moved to salvage an initiative that would see Saleh eased out of power and ending political unrest. The GCC has said it was awaiting a "signal" from Saleh to revive their efforts.

The country's main opposition Common Forum Thursday asked the Gulf Arab states to pressure Saleh to accept the transition plan and end months of political violence.

"We call on Gulf Cooperation Council states to put pressure on the president to take all necessary measures to force him to sign the agreement," said Mohammed Qahtan, spokesman of the Common Forum, an alliance of parliamentary opposition groups.

Saleh has insisted that any transition will be in line with the constitution even though his ruling party had accepted a GCC plan that would see Saleh step down at the end of a month from signing a deal.

The plan proposes the formation of a government of national unity, Saleh transferring power to his vice president and an end to the deadly protests rocking the impoverished Arabian peninsula nation since late January.

Last week, GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani travelled to Sanaa to invite members of the government and the opposition to sign the transition plan in Riyadh and to obtain the president's signature.

However, Zayani left empty-handed after Saleh, in power for 32 years, refused to sign.

Saleh has been a close US ally in Washington's fight against Al-Qaeda. Slain Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's ancestral home is in Yemen and the US has expressed fears that Yemen could see a resurgence of the Qaeda activity.

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