Saturday, March 26, 2011

Al Qaeda branch in Yemen planning terror strikes: US

Washington, March 26 (DPA) An Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen may be close to launching a terrorist attack, according to US intelligence agencies, the Washington Post reported Saturday.

US officials described the information about the plot as fragmentary, and did not have sufficient details to issue a public warning, the report said.

But they said the intelligence was credible. And one official said the new information pointed to 'a current and concerning threat', the Post reported.

The threat from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), as the affiliate is known, comes at a time when counter-terrorism operations in Yemen have reportedly been disrupted by mass demonstrations against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled for 32 years.

US officials have expressed concerns that the unrest sweeping the Arab world could hamper efforts to unravel the plot.

The US was last year patrolling above Yemen with unmanned Predator drones, and in the last 18 months deployed dozens of CIA agents and anti-terrorism specialists to track the Al Qaeda branch.

Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, last month described AQAP as 'probably the most significant risk to the US homeland'.

Presidential source: President Saleh not to quit

SANA'A, March 26 (Saba) - A presidential source denied on Saturday what have been reported by some media outlets that President Ali Abdullah Saleh will step down.

The source said that President Saleh had always asserted that the transfer of power must be via dialogue in the light of his initiative presented at the meeting with the Shura Council and Parliament and the eight conditions announced before sheikhs,

Scholars as well as his initiative delivered at the General National Conference, in addition to the five conditions presented by the opposition Joint Meeting Parties.

In this regard, caretaker Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi denied on Saturday media reports attributed to him on reaching a deal on a transfer of power today [Saturday].

"My statement to Reuters was reported partly and inaccurately, al-Qirbi told Saba.

I have said, in an interview with Reuters, that "I pin hopes to reach an agreement on a transfer of power today before tomorrow based on the five points the Joint Meeting Parties (JMPs) have previously offered which President Ali Abdullah Saleh approved," the caretaker Foreign Minister said.

Yemen president says he is "ready to step down"

By the CNN Wire Staff

March 26, 2011

(CNN) -- Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told an Arab television network that he is "ready to step down with respect and dignity, even within a two hours notice."

But Saleh, speaking to Al Arabiya television on Saturday, also warned that some leadership factions have a "foreign agenda."

The interview came one day after the Yemeni president spoke to thousands at a pro-government demonstration in an effort to underscore his intentions to have a dialogue with anti-government protesters and make concessions to avoid bloodshed.

Saleh told the crowd that while he is ready to hand over authority, he won't do so to "gangs," "drug dealers" or the Houthi rebels fighting the government

Protesters have called for the ouster of Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978.

The country has been wracked by a Shiite Muslim uprising, a U.S.-aided crackdown on al Qaeda operatives and a looming shortage of water.

Protesters cite government corruption, a lack of political freedom and high unemployment that have fueled much of the anger among a growing young population steeped in poverty.

Saleh had promised not to run for president in the next round of elections. But Yemen's parliament this week approved a 30-day extension of emergency powers Saleh declared last week in response to protests.

The emergency law expands the government's powers of arrest, detention and censorship.

Al-Qirbi denies media reports on power's transfer on Saturday

SANA'A, March 26 (Saba) - Caretaker Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi denied on Saturday media reports attributed to him on reaching a deal on a transition of power today [Saturday].

"My statement to Reuters was reported partly and inaccurately, al-Qirbi told Saba.

I have said, in an interview with Reuters, that I pin hopes on coming to an agreement on transition of power today before tomorrow based on the five points the Joint Meeting Parties (JMPs) have previously offered and the President Ali Abdullah Saleh has announced his approval to, the Caretaker Foreign Minister said.

Yemen president's party rejects ouster

Hammoud Mounassar

March 27, 2011

The ruling party of Yemen's embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Saturday said he should serve out his term until 2013, after he offered to hand over power but only to "safe hands."

In the south of the crisis-hit country, the army killed six suspected Al-Qaeda members.

Saleh, in power for more than 30 years and a key US ally in its fight against Al-Qaeda, has faced two months of street protests and his regime been hit by defections in the ranks of top military and tribal leaders over the past two weeks.

"It is unacceptable and illogical to override the constitutional legality or for the minority to impose its will on the majority of the people," Saleh's General People's Congress said in a meeting.

The GPC accused the opposition of having "closed the door to dialogue and sought isolation," and said the crowds who took part in a rally of solidarity with Saleh on Friday numbered as many as three million.

"Power will only be handed over to someone chosen by the people through elections, the only way for a peaceful transition of power," party spokesman Tareq al-Shami told AFP on the morning after the meeting.

"The people have had their say," Shami said. "In the absence of a national agreement, we are committed to the constitutional process, which provides for presidential elections in 2013."

Saleh himself said he would hand over power but only to "safe hands," in a defiant speech to his massed supporters, a day after talks with a top defector apparently failed to defuse the crisis.

"You are the ones who will be handed power," the Yemeni strongman told his supporters.

In the south of the country, a security source said army soldiers killed six suspected Al-Qaeda members who attacked a post at a power plant in Loder, a town in restive Abyan province, a stronghold of the Islamist militants.

Government forces and Al-Qaeda militants fought a pitched battle in the town of Loder in August 2010, when at least 33 people were killed, including 19 militants.

Analysts have said Saleh's role as a key US anti-Qaeda ally has likely contributed to Washington's relatively muted response to deadly crackdowns on pro-democracy protests in Yemen.

The president, whose concessions and offers to stand down by the end of 2011 have been snubbed by the opposition, renewed his invitation for youths at the forefront of the protests to join a dialogue.

"I am ready to talk to you and to form a political party for the youths," said Saleh, 69, who has ruled Yemen since 1978.

In behind-the-scenes talks aimed at averting more bloodshed, Saleh and top dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, considered the second strongest man in Yemen, failed to strike a deal on Thursday night, the two sides said.

Defections to the opposition accelerated after Saleh regime loyalists opened fire during a protest in Sanaa on March 18, killing 52 people and sparking worldwide condemnation.

Ahmar, a regional army commander who has vowed to defend the protesters, is leading efforts to form a transitional council grouping all sides, according to sources close to the secret negotiations.

With hundreds of thousands of rival demonstrators on Sanaa's streets on Friday, soldiers fired warning shots to prevent loyalists from attacking anti-regime protesters. There were no reports of casualties.

Many in the anti-regime camp brandished football referee-style red cards signaling it was time for Saleh to go.

Source: AFP