Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tanks roll as Yemen's political crisis deepens

September 6, 2011

THREE months after the forced medical leave of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a leadership stalemate in Yemen threatens to degenerate into open confrontation between Saleh loyalists and opponents.

The elite Republican Guard troops, commanded by Ahmed, the eldest son of Mr Saleh, had reinforced their presence this week and deployed tanks and missiles on the hills overlooking Sanaa, witnesses said yesterday.

Soldiers loyal to dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, fewer and less well armed, have fortified their positions in areas that they control in the city, mainly around the University Square, renamed Change Square by protesters camped there.

Armed civilians have been sighted on both sides of Zubair Street, which now divides Sanaa between the areas controlled by government forces and that held by the opposition.

"The regime rejects a political solution and could use other options. But the military option would be a mistake," said Yassin Saeed Noman, leader of the Common Forum, which groups parliamentary opposition parties.

Mr Saleh was flown to Riyadh on board a Saudi medical aircraft after he was wounded in a bomb blast attack on his Sanaa compound on June 3. He is recovering in the Saudi capital, and has vowed to return soon.

Despite protests demanding his ousting since January, Mr Saleh has refused to sign a deal brokered by Gulf monarchies for a peaceful transition of power.

The plan provides for the formation of a national unity government led by the opposition while Mr Saleh would hand power to his Vice-President, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi. Mr Saleh would resign a month later in return for immunity against prosecution, including for his family, but he has refused to hand over any powers to his deputy.

Britain's ambassador to Yemen, Jonathan Wilks, urged both sides to begin talks based on the Gulf plan and a UN-proposed deal. "What Yemen needs is a peaceful political settlement . . . violence is not a solution to any of Yemen's problems," he said on the embassy website.

"The priority should be for all sides to be more active in negotiating a political settlement based on the GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) initiative and the roadmap for implementation of political transition developed by UN envoy Jamal Benomar."

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