Thursday, June 23, 2011

US urges 'immediate' power transfer in Yemen

By Hammoud Mounassar (AFP)

SANAA — A top US official called Thursday for an "immediate" power transfer in Yemen, as a Western diplomat said President Ali Abdullah Saleh was wounded by one of many bombs planted in a mosque.

Echoing demands by the Yemeni opposition, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs Jeffrey Feltman said: "We continue to believe that an immediate, peaceful, and orderly transition is in the best interest of the Yemeni people."

"We urge all sides to engage in dialogue that peacefully moves Yemen forward," he told reporters after meeting Yemeni Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.

Feltman's statements come amid growing local and international pressure on Hadi to assume power after embattled Saleh was flown to Riyadh for treatment for wounds suffered when a bomb exploded as he prayed at his palace mosque on June 3.

A Western diplomat said on Thursday that the blast was caused by one of many bombs planted in the mosque, adding that others did not explode.

Saleh was wounded by a TNT explosive device, the diplomat said in Sanaa, asking not to be identified.

A Yemeni security official confirmed that some bombs did not go off.

"Five explosives planted inside the mosque and another planted outside did not explode," he told AFP.

Feltman said Washington "is providing support to the Yemenis in the investigation" which the diplomat said will take "months."

US experts on June 9 said the attack was an assassination bid, probably an "inside job" using an improvised explosive device.

STRATFOR, a US-based authority on strategic and tactical intelligence issues, said its assessment was based on an evaluation of photographs taken of the blast site.

Other top Yemeni officials, including Prime Minister Ali Mohammad Mujawar and consultative council chief Abdulaziz Abdulghani, were wounded in the blast that killed 11 people and injured another 124.

Saleh, 69, has made no public appearance since the attack, sparking speculation about his condition and casting doubts over the possibility of his return to Yemen.

But Hadi's grip on power is questioned as Saleh relatives continue to run main security systems. Key among them is Saleh's son, Ahmed, who leads the elite Republican Guard.

"The United States supports the initiative proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a credible path to confront the challenging political situation in Yemen," said Feltman.

"We encourage all parties to move swiftly to implement the terms of the agreement so the Yemeni people can soon realise the security, unity, and prosperity that they have so courageously sought and so richly deserve," he added.

Despite strong Western pressure, Saleh has repeatedly refused to sign the GCC-brokered transition plan under which he would hand power to Hadi within 30 days in exchange for a promise of immunity from prosecution.

"The vice president is facing obstacles and difficulties. We believe that all Yemenis support him, except for (Saleh's) sons who are holding on to hereditary authority," parliamentary opposition spokesman Mohammed Qahtan told AFP.

Qahtan said the opposition has "heard" a meeting took place between Feltman and Ahmed, but "Ahmed has no constitutional authorities. Our revolution was necessary because Yemen would have become a monarchy."

"If (Saleh) returns as a common citizen then he is welcome but we reject his return as a president and so do the Yemeni people," Qahtan said.

Yemenis have protested since January calling for Saleh's ouster. His security forces have killed at least 200 people since.

Following Saleh's departure for Saudi Arabia, demonstrators continued to rally in an attempt to pressure Hadi to form an interim ruling council to crush any hopes the veteran leader might have to rule again.

In addition to Hadi, Feltman said he met Yemen's Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Kurbi, "as well as representatives from the civil society, student members of the opposition, business leaders and other foreign diplomats."

He did not, however, confirm that he had met Ahmed Saleh.

"As Yemen's transition moves forward, the United States looks forward to continuing and developing its partnership with the government and people of Yemen," he said.

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