Sunday, August 14, 2011

Saleh May Give Up Power Under New Yemen Plan, Official Says

Aug. 13 (Bloomberg) -- New talks on a transfer of leadership in Yemen foresee President Ali Abdullah Saleh surrendering power to his deputy while keeping his title, a senior official said.

The proposal includes the formation of a new government and elections for head of state, said the official, who was briefed on the negotiations. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to comment publicly. Saleh has agreed on the plan's outline, though details still have to be worked out and the opposition hasn't given its consent, the official said.

The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, citing unidentified people close to the Yemeni presidential palace, reported today that Saleh has shown clear readiness to hand power to Vice President Abduraboo Mansur Hadi. The paper said Saleh has asked that members of his ruling party be ready for all possibilities, including early elections.

Saleh is under renewed pressure to cede power after more than two months in neighboring Saudi Arabia, where he is recovering from injuries sustained during a June 3 attack on his compound. The attempts to revive a transition plan brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council are aimed at halting six months of unrest in a country that is the poorest in the Arab world and has been used as a base by al-Qaeda.

U.S. Stance

U.S. officials called this month for an immediate transfer of power, saying the process can happen even as Saleh, who has led Yemen for 33 years, convalesces in a Saudi palace.

"The issue for the U.S. is that he needs to transition the authority to the vice president, implement the GCC initiative, and leave office," Gerald Feierstein, U.S. ambassador to Yemen, said in an interview with Radio Sawa on Aug. 9. "Where he lives is a personal issue for him to decide and it's also of course something for the Yemeni people to decide." A transcript of the interview was provided by the embassy yesterday.

Feierstein said he has met with Hadi 12 to 15 times since the attack on Saleh. The vice president "has the full confidence of the U.S. government in his ability not only to implement the transition but also to lead Yemen through this transition period," the ambassador said.

Protests against Saleh began in January and swelled into massive demonstrations beginning Feb. 11. The protesters have demanded that Saleh leave, following leaders in Tunisia and Egypt who were ousted by popular revolts. The violence has cost businesses more than $17 billion and forced 500 factories to close, Deputy Information Minister Abdu al-Janadi said July 28. Industry and Trade Minister Hisham Sharaf estimated in June that the economy is at 60 percent of capacity.

The GCC, which includes the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, drafted a plan a few weeks after the unrest began that provides for Saleh to step down and hand the leadership to Hadi in exchange for immunity. Violence escalated in May after Saleh refused, for the third time, to sign the proposed accord.

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