Monday, April 18, 2011

Defectors from Yemen president's camp set up party

SANAA, Apr 18, 2011- (AP) — Several top figures who defected from the embattled Yemeni president's camp set up their own opposition party Monday in another blow to the long-time ruler who has clung to power despite near-daily protests demanding his ouster.

Meanwhile, police in a southern port town fired tear gas and live ammunition at thousands of protesters calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down, injuring 45 people.

The developments underscore Yemen's precarious situation after two months of mass protests over the lack of freedoms and extreme poverty. The country's opposition, inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, says nothing short of Saleh's immediate departure would end the unrest.

Yemeni rights groups say the crackdown has killed more than 120 people, but it has not deterred crowds from gathering.

According to activist Riyadh al-Absi, of the 45 protesters hurt in Monday's violence in the Red Sea port of al-Hudaydah, 12 were wounded by bullets fired by plainclothes policemen. Police used batons to beat protesters who responded by throwing stones, al-Absi said.

In the capital Sanaa, several top figures and lawmakers — many of them defectors from Saleh's ruling Congress Party — set up their own bloc, entitled "Justice and Construction Bloc" and issued a statement insisting that Saleh relinquish power.

U.S.-educated Mohammed Abulahoum, who is also a leader of the powerful Bakeel tribe, the second-largest tribe in Yemen, was among the founding members. Khaled al-Wazeer, who was transport minister before he defected, was also among the party's founders.

Several women were among them too, including Huda al-Ban, who resigned last month as human rights minister. The group said it would strive to "establish a civil society based on democracy, peaceful transfer of power and respect of others."

Saleh's camp has been hit by a wave of defections and resignations since late March when security forces shot dead more than 40 demonstrators during a protest in Sanaa. The defectors have also included key allies in the military, powerful tribes, ambassadors, provincial governors and some managers of the state-run media.

As part of efforts to resolve Yemen's turmoil, representatives from the opposition held talks in the Saudi capital Sunday with the foreign ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council to discuss the GCC proposal under which Saleh would transfer power to his deputy.

The GCC proposal also offers the president immunity from prosecution, which the opposition has rejected.

A statement issued Sunday night by the ministers said they will meet Yemen government representatives after they heard the opposition views. No date for that meeting has been set.

"The opposition representatives have confirmed their wish to end the current crisis to save the blood and the interests of the Yemeni people," the statement said.

Security forces opened fire on protesters in the capital on Sunday as marchers neared the office of the special forces, headed by Saleh's son. Witnesses said the forces fired live ammunition, and used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd. Security agents chased protesters in side streets, and the protesters said at least 220 people were wounded, including 20 people hit by gunfire.

The official SABA news agency said 14 policemen were injured by stones in Sunday's evening protests in Sanaa.

Impoverished Yemen's economy hard hit by protests

SANAA, Apr 18, 2011- (AP) — Almost two months of unrest in Yemen has more than doubled the price of some basic foodstuffs and cooking gas while the value of the rial has plummeted, deepening the strain in what was already the Arab world's poorest nation.

The economic woes mirror those that surfaced in other Arab countries that either already underwent similar uprisings, or are still grappling with the mass protests. But they carry a particular weight in Yemen, where concerns are mounting that President Ali Abdullah Saleh's already shaky grip on power is working to the advantage of militant groups like Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Anger about the price increases and shortage of cooking gas have been building for weeks, with protests surfacing in major cities, including the capital, and hundreds of people blocking main roads with empty gas cylinders. Meanwhile, unemployment, pegged at 49 percent in 2010, according to economists, is getting worse as business tapers off and the devaluation in the rial has hammered the construction sector.

"There is no chance for work," said Abdullah al-Matari, a 55-year-old construction worker and father of eight who was one of hundreds of other day laborers waiting for a job at a downtown Sanaa market.

Unlike most of the other countries that share the peninsula, Yemen's story is one of being the impoverished sibling. It has almost none of the oil wealth that its northern neighbor, Saudi Arabia, enjoys and it has been largely overlooked by the Gulf nations in their bid — through an infusion of cash — to stem the unrest building up in the region.

While Saudi Arabia, the United Arabia Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar pledged $20 billion in aid Bahrain and Oman, their more impoverished fellow Gulf Cooperation Council sister states, Yemen has found no such benefactor.

Meanwhile, the country, with over 24 million people, has the lowest per capita income of any of the major Arab states — just $1,200 according to the London-based Capital Economics. Its GDP is roughly twice that of Bahrain, a tiny nation of just 800,000.

Its economic troubles have only deteriorated since the start of the uprising.

Since the start of the protests in February, the rial has lost about 20 percent of its value. With daily life disrupted, Yemenis have taken to hoarding essential food stuff, leading to price increases and a sharp decline in stocks of such goods and products.

Inflation, which stood at about 11 percent last year, has climbed to between 15 and 18 percent in the first quarter of 2011 while GDP growth has slowed to slightly under 1 percent, said Youssef Saeed, an economist at Aden University.

"If there's no political solution, these figures are only going to get worse," said Saeed, adding that the country needed "urgent help from the Gulf nations and donor countries."

The surging prices are a burden that Yemenis can ill afford.

A 50 kilogram sack of sugar that normally sold for 9,000 rials ($37 per 110 pound sack) now costs 11,000 in the capital and 14,000 in remote villages in other provinces. The price of wheat, cooking oil and milk have all climbed by at least 25 percent.

The spike in prices is further fueling the unrest, putting even more strain on the embattled Saleh and his government.

In Sanaa, angry youth who spent three days demonstrating outside a gas distribution center clashed repeatedly with police and dispersed on Saturday, only after a truck arrived carrying full gas cylinders. But even then, resentment abounded.

Ahmed al-Himi said he bought one of the canisters for more than double the government-mandated price of 1,200 rials, and said he was convinced the government was behind the price surge.

"The government gets the extra money to pay to its supporters who take part in the pro-government demonstrations, or to buy allegiance of some tribal chiefs," al-Himi said.

The claims are common in a country — and indeed a region — where authoritarian governments have long had little credibility among a people who argue that the established regimes are intent only on enriching themselves and loyalists.

Saleh, who has for weeks resisted pressure to step down, responded in kind — blaming the protesters for the gas cylinder crisis. On Friday, he said that the opposition was blocking roads to prevent the cylinders from reaching Sanaa from Marib, the al-Qaida stronghold southern province where the gas in produced.

An attack earlier last week on a power plant in the province, disrupted the flow of gas, and several cities including Sanaa, suffered electricity shortages. The official SABA news agency accused unnamed "saboteurs" of being behind the attack.

For millions of Yemenis, however, the real concern is how to cope in a country where the deteriorating political situation is eclipsed only by the economy.

"I come here every morning but, at noon, I go back empty-handed," said Hazza al-Hamadi, a 33-year-old plumber. "Life has become more difficult."

Yemen Opposition Rejects Gulf Plan as Police Fire on Crowd

By Mohammed Hatem and Peter S. Green

(Updates with foreign minister’s comments in sixth paragraph. See EXTRA and MET for more on the regional turmoil.)

April 18 (Bloomberg) -- Yemen’s opposition coalition rejected a Gulf Cooperation Council plan to end unrest in the country, telling the group’s foreign ministers that the swift departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh isn’t negotiable.

Before the talks began in Riyadh yesterday, police in Yemen used live ammunition, teargas and water cannons to disperse tens of thousands of protesters marching in the capital, Sana’a, injuring at least 100, according to Abdulmalik al-Yusufi, a doctor at a field clinic along the protest route. Thirty protesters were hurt when they were attacked by government supporters in the city of Thamad, according to the online opposition publication al-Masdar.

“We are sticking to our position,” Mohammed Salem Basendwah, head of the opposition Preparatory Committee for National Dialogue, told reporters in the Saudi capital after the meeting. Yemen’s six-party opposition coalition, the Joint Meetings Party, wants Saleh to step down immediately.

Protests in Yemen calling for an end to Saleh’s rule are entering their third month. The GCC, which comprises the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, wants the opposition to accept the handover of power from Saleh to his Vice President Abduraboo Mansur Hadi. The Arab group hasn’t announced when a handover should take place.

Working on Handover

“The president has repeatedly said that he’s prepared to transfer power,” Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi said in an interview in Dubai today. “We have to agree on how to transfer it, the timeframe, the process; so this is what we’re working on now.”

An April 3 plan by the GCC called for Saleh to step down immediately. The council on April 10 scaled back its demands, asking Saleh to cede power to Hadi, a plan rejected by the opposition.

“The dialogue was brotherly and constructive, reflecting both parties’ wish to bring their points of view closer together and continue working and exert greater effort to preserve the republic of Yemen’s safety, stability and unity,” the council said in a statement distributed after the Riyadh meeting ended early today.

Asked later whether the opposition will seek to put Saleh on trial, Sultan Al Atwani, secretary-general of the opposition Nasserite Unionist People’s Organization, said: “We are not aggressive. We are not who will try him. If he wishes to stay, he can stay. If he feels he is not safe, he can stay in another country.”

Women March

Yemeni men and women marched side by side in Sana’a and cities across the country yesterday to protest Saleh’s March 15 comment that mixed-gender demonstrations violate Islamic law. The women chanted, “Hey, Yemeni woman, revolt. Ali is a dictator.”

Saleh said his comment about mixed protests was prompted by “worry for our daughters, sisters and mothers from the mob and anarchists,” state-run Saba news agency reported.

Protesters were stuck inside al-Rahman mosque in Sana’a’s diplomatic zone yesterday, cleric Mohammed al-Hazmi said in a telephone interview. About 30 protesters suffered teargas inhalation while troops surrounded the mosque, he said. More than a dozen people were injured in clashes today between demonstrators and police in the port city of Hodiedah, Abdulhafiz Mujjab, an organizer of the rally, said by phone.

Saleh has been a U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaeda. The most serious terrorism threat to the U.S. comes from members of a Yemen-based offshoot of al-Qaeda, Mark F. Giuliano, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s assistant director for counterterrorism, said April 14.

“Al-Qaeda, where there is a political crisis or political conflict, it takes advantage of it,” Al-Qirbi said today. “They’ll take advantage of it for sure.”

15 Anti-Saleh Protesters Wounded in Hodeida Province

By Fatik Al-Rodaini

Sana'a, Apr 18, 2011- At least 15 protesters were wounded in Yemen's western province of Hodeida during clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces.

Sources said that the clashes erupted when anti-Saleh protesters took to the street demanding the fall the President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime.

Security forces fired shots and tear gas at protesters to disperse them

Medical sources confirmed that tens of protesters were injured during the clashes.

Violence between pro-Saleh forces and opposition activists has killed more than 116 people since the protests began in late January.

Opposition Insists on Saleh Resignation as GCC Ministers Meet on Yemen

The Joint Meeting Parties, the opposition coalition, has said that Saleh must step down as the unrest continues across the republic.

At the exceptional meeting of the GCC Foreign Ministers attended by representatives from the coalition, the opposition said Saleh should quit in two weeks as representatives added that there was not a clear timeframe for Saleh resignation in the GCC proposal.

The GCC ministers and the JMP delegation agreed to continue dialogue in the future with the JMP holding to the GCC proposal that called for Saleh to transfer powers to his deputy, form an interim government led by the opposition and draw up a new constitution ahead of holding elections.

The offer also included that Saleh and his family will be given immunity from prosecution after they leave office.

A statement at the end o the meeting in Saudi capital Riyadh said that at the meeting the ministers and the JMP delegates discussed views toward the GCC proposal for tackling the Yemeni crisis within the interest in maintaining Yemen's stability, security and unity.

After the meeting, Sultan Al-Atwani ruled out that President Saleh will be tried and Secretary General of the GCC said that dialogue will be held soon with the Yemeni government as the unrest continues to rock Yemen.

Source: Yemen Post