Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Yemenis agree to hold talks on transfer of power

By Ahmed Al-Haj

Associated Press / June 14, 2011

SANA, Yemen — Yemen’s acting president agreed yesterday with opposition parties to begin discussions about how to transfer power from the country’s embattled president, an opposition spokesman said.

The official, Abdullah Oubal, said the agreement provides for the opposition and President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s ruling party to open a dialogue to find a way to ease Saleh out of office, in accordance with proposals put forward by Yemen’s Gulf neighbors. Saleh has publicly accepted the proposals in the past, but has been evasive about implementing them.

The agreement may not end the country’s political impasse or prevent renewed clashes between forces loyal to Saleh and armed tribesmen opposed to his rule. However, it suggests that the acting president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, is exercising his constitutional powers, despite the vast influence wielded by Saleh’s inner circle and family.

The meeting was the first between an alliance of opposition parties and Hadi, who has been acting president since Saleh left for Saudi Arabia on June 5 for medical treatment from wounds he suffered in an attack on his compound in Sana, Yemen’s capital.

A senior Yemeni official in the Saudi capital, where Saleh is hospitalized, said the president’s condition was stable but not improving. The official spoke by telephone and on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Yesterday’s meeting, thought to have been convened under Western pressure, took place at Hadi’s Sana residence, which witnesses said was surrounded by members of the special forces, an elite outfit led by Saleh’s son and onetime heir apparent, Ahmed.

Two top ruling party officials, Sultan al-Burkany and Ahmed Ben Daghr, joined Hadi on the government side for the negotiations, said opposition spokesman Oubal.

Tensions remain between forces loyal to Saleh and armed tribesmen led by Sadeq al-Ahmar, a onetime ally of the president who switched sides in March to join protesters staging mass demonstrations to demand the president’s ouster.

The two sides fought fierce street battles in Sana in late May and early this month, causing extensive damage to several neighborhoods. Officials close to Ahmar said 100 of their fighters were killed and another 325 wounded in the fighting between May 23 and June 4.

In Sana, news of the agreement between Hadi and the opposition appeared to have no immediate impact. Witnesses said troops loyal to and opposed to Saleh have been significantly reinforced, with more checkpoints and plainclothes gunmen visible on the streets.

Beside the armed tribesmen, troops from the elite First Armored Division, whose commander mutinied and joined the protesters in March, have been squaring up in the capital against the presidential guard and the special forces, both under the command of the president’s son.

Airstrikes, meanwhile, targeted Muslim militants in control of a southern Yemeni town, killing three suspected extremists yesterday, military and medical officials said.

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