By Jamal Al-Jashini
Associated Press / November 26, 2011
SANAA, Yemen—Yemen scheduled early presidential elections for early next year on Saturday in line with a power-sharing deal aimed at ending a nine-month political crisis, according to the country's official news agency.
The agreement would make President Ali Abdullah Saleh the fourth dictator pushed from power this year by the Arab Spring uprisings, although it has been rejected by many protesters because it would grant the reviled leader immunity from prosecution and does not include far-reaching political changes like those brought about by the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
The U.S.-backed Gulf Arab proposal signed Wednesday in the Saudi capital Riyadh calls for Saleh to pass power to his deputy within 30 days, after a new government sworn in by the vice president passes a law protecting Saleh and his associates from prosecution. Presidential elections also were to be held within 90 days, well ahead of the original date in 2013.
It came after months of resistance by the leader of 33 years despite massive protests calling for him to step down. Saleh had agreed to sign the deal at least three previous times only to back out at the last minute.
Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi said Saturday that the vote will be held on Feb. 21 and no party has the right to annul or change the decree, SABA reported. He made the announcement after Saleh gave him "the constitutional authorities to carry out dialogue with the parties that signed the Gulf initiative."
While it was welcomed by the U.S., which fears instability in the country that's home to one of the world's most active al-Qaida branches, the agreement has failed to end the mass protests that have rocked Sanaa and other cities since February.
Thousands took to the streets on Saturday to demand that Saleh face trial for allegations of corruption and the killing of hundreds of protesters as his security forces brutally tried to end the uprising against him.
The deal doesn't explicitly ban Saleh from the country's political life -- raising fears he could continue to play a political role.
Violence also continued, with Yemeni warplanes killing 80 anti-government tribesmen who overran part of a military camp in the Arhab region north of the capital.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said that warplanes and artillery had pounded the armed tribesmen for the past two days.
The number of deaths was not confirmed. But a soldier from Yemen's 63rd Brigade who fled the camp said tribesmen had overrun it several days ago. He spoke by telephone from Arhab, asking not to be identified for fear of government reprisal. The soldier said the tribesmen killed about 20 soldiers.