Saturday, April 23, 2011

President of Yemen Offers to Resign for Immunity


April 23, 2011

CAIRO — Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, agreed on Saturday to leave power after 32 years of autocratic rule, according to a top Yemeni official, but only if the opposition agrees to a list of conditions, including that he and his family be granted immunity.

Opposition leaders said they were prepared to accept most of the terms of the deal, which both they and a Yemeni official said would establish a coalition government with members of the opposition and ruling party. The president would turn over authority to the current vice president.

But the opposition said it could not guarantee at least one of Mr. Saleh’s demands — that demonstrations be halted — and opposition members said they would present a counteroffer to the president later Saturday. The opposition said it had little influence with the mainly young protesters who have been demanding Mr. Saleh’s departure.

Even if the opposition and the government agree to a deal, it is unclear whether the demonstrators will go along, especially after pro-government snipers brutally crushed a demonstration on March 18, killing 52.

Mr. Saleh is a wily political survivor, and it was unclear if his offer was a real attempt to calm the political turmoil and growing demonstrations that have rocked his country for weeks or a way to shift blame for a stalemate to the opposition. His offer follows days of unrelenting pressure, from Saudi Arabia and other neighboring states fearful of more instability in the region, for him to step aside.

A Yemeni official portrayed the deal as one devised by the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional group dominated by Saudi Arabia. But a member of the Gulf council said it had presented only a framework for a political solution, not a plan with such specifics.

“The most important thing in the initiative to all parties, including Saleh himself, is for a smooth and peaceful transition of authority,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the negotiations. “Now the devil is in the details. This is up to them to decide, not up to us.”

Mr. Saleh has been an important ally of the United States in its efforts to stamp out Al Qaeda, which has an active branch in the country. The relationship became especially crucial to the United States after attempted terrorist attempts were linked to the Qaeda branch there. That included an attempt to bring down an airliner bound for the United States at the end of 2009.

But in recent weeks, American officials began joining calls for Mr. Saleh to step down; they said the White House had determined that he would not make the changes necessary to bring stability to the country. American officials were also increasingly worried that the stalemate and continued violence there were allowing Qaeda members to become even more entrenched.

The State Department reacted somewhat cautiously Saturday. Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said officials had seen news reports about President Saleh’s apparent acceptance of an agreement with the opposition, which he said would be welcome. But he added that “The participation of all sides in this dialogue is urgently needed to reach a solution supported by the Yemeni people.” He also specified that the nation’s youth should be brought into the process.

“We will not speculate about the choices the Yemeni people will make or the results of their political dialogue,” Mr. Toner said. “It is ultimately for the people of Yemen to decide how their country is governed.”

Source: The New York Times

Yemen's President Criticizes Former Lawmakers Who Joined Opposition

Sana'a, Apr 23, 2011- Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has accused government opponents of trying to drag the country into civil war.

He made the comments during a speech to armed forces academy students on Saturday, a day after thousands of anti-government protesters demanded his resignation.

Saleh said former ruling party members who had resigned and joined the opposition were "symbols of corruption." He also accused opponents of trying to mimic the situations in Egypt and Tunisia, where anti-government unrest led to the presidents' resignations.

On Friday, opposition activists rallied across Yemen while Saleh remained vague as to whether he would accept a plan from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council that included his resignation.

The plan calls for him to transfer power to a deputy, who would then form a unity government within two months. Ruling party members would control half of the unity government, 40 percent would be held by an opposition coalition, with the rest made up of unaffiliated parties.

Saleh said he welcomed the group's efforts, but any proposal had to meet the framework of the constitution.

Yemen's Saleh Accepts Deal to Step Down


Sana'a, Apr 23, 2011- Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has accepted a political deal brokered by neighboring Arab countries that would have him step down from power after 30 days in exchange for immunity for himself and his close relatives, according to a presidential aide.

The apparent softening of the longtime ruler's recalcitrant stance that he would remain in power until the end of his term in 2013 comes after a burst of arm-twisting and backroom diplomacy by Yemen's close allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It renews the possibility that the volatile country could see a handover of power before the volatile country descends into widespread violence, but it is unclear whether key groups who comprise the backbone of Yemen's opposition movement would accept the controversial clause of immunity for the man who has ruled Yemen for 32 years.

Yemen's key Arab allies and the U.S. have grown increasingly worried that the three-month political standoff has reversed gains made by American and Yemeni forces to weaken and destroy the entrenched Al Qaeda networks inside Yemen. In recent weeks, as protests against the president have gained traction, as many as half of the country's U.S.-trained counter-terrorism forces, which are commanded by President Saleh's son and nephews, have left their posts in al Qaeda-infested areas of the country to help defend the leader's official residence in the capital San'a.

Last week's burst of lobbying by Gulf officials, led by Saudi Arabia, sent the message to embattled President Saleh that he had lost the backing of his neighbors, but that they would ensure he received a dignified exit from office, according to two Arab diplomats familiar with the negotiations conducted over the last week.

"President Saleh welcomed the proposal and has accepted it," presidential aide Tariq Shami told The Wall Street Journal. "Though President Saleh has constitutional rights to stay in power, he is willing to leave office willingly."

The turnaround by President Saleh – who has rejected nearly a dozen other negotiated agreements to hand over power in the last month – puts pressure on Yemen's opposition which has dangerously fractured in the last few days during the extended political stalemate in which both sides have faced off in the streets of the capital backed by tanks and soldiers loyal to the opposing sides.

The latest agreement hashed out earlier in the week during talks under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council contains a divisive point for the protesters, namely the granting of immunity for the president, his close relatives who run the country's intelligence service, Republican Guard and elite Interior Ministry forces and for loyal officials who have served the president and his ruling party. It is unclear whether the leaders of the opposition movement can lobby enough of the wide-ranging anti-Saleh factions to back the plan.

Since January, motley groups of political forces have taken to the streets demanding the end of President Saleh's 32-year rule, including student groups, tribal leaders and military officers.

Mainstream opposition parties have said in principal that they agree to the terms, which would have President Saleh handing over power to the country's vice president within 30 days of the official signing of the deal. His son and nephews would retain control of their military and national security positions for 60 days to ensure continuity of counter-terrorism operations. The president's family would also receive immunity from prosecution.

However, the student groups which called for the first street protests and which have become the moral backbone of the anti-Saleh movement, have hone a tough line on the question of immunity. Thousands of these protesters marched in the capital on Saturday to show their displeasure with the GCC proposal. "We the youth of revolution reject any proposal that does not hold Saleh accountable for the killing of more than 140 revolutionary protesters" during the street demonstrations this year, said a statement released by the students' organizing committee. "The GCC proposal approves Saleh stepping down from power in thirty days while we ask for his immediate departure. This is against the will of the people and in favor of the oppressor Saleh," the statement said.

Like their counterparts in Egypt, the Yemeni student groups are a key constituent that the opposition parties have been trying to woo as they look ahead to their place in the political spectrum after the president's ouster.

The GCC proposal has been hashed out after talks hosted by the Saudi and UAE governments earlier this week. Representatives of President Saleh and the opposition political groups were invited to the meetings – but the students themselves were not.

Leading members of the opposition had sent emissaries to the students to lobby for the deal, yet they admitted it was a struggle to entice the students to change their minds and accept the GCC proposal. "The youth want Saleh to stand trial and not have immunity. This is a major issue to them and the opposition will not accept any proposal until it reaches grounds of understanding with the youth protesters," said Mohammed Qahtan spokesperson for the opposition Joint Meeting Parties, the umbrella group of opposition political parties.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Saleh says opposition dragging Yemen into war

By Mohamed Sudam and Mohammed Mukhashaf

SANAA/ADEN, Apr 23, 2011-(Reuters) - Yemen's president on Saturday accused the opposition of dragging the country into civil war, as Yemenis boarded up their shops and businesses across the country in protest against his rule.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, in a speech in the capital Sanaa, called on Yemen's youth to form a political party according to the constitution and said the Arab state would not accept any tutelage "whatsoever."

"They (the opposition) want to drag the area to civil war and we refuse to be dragged to civil war," Saleh said.

"Security, safety and stability are in Yemen's interests and the interests of the region," he said.

Protests in Yemen, inspired by uprisings that toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia, are now in their third month and bring tens of thousands of people onto the streets almost every day demanding an end to endemic poverty and corruption.

Scores of protesters have been killed.

Acknowledging that Yemeni students drew on the example of Egypt and Tunisia, Saleh said there was a "huge difference" in Yemen, but that his government would meet students' demands in the framework of the constitution and the law.

Up to 90 percent of shops, markets and schools were closed in the southern port city of Aden, a Reuters witness said. There were few pedestrians in the streets and almost no traffic.

Many businesses were also closed for the day in the cities of Taiz, Yemen's third city and a centre of opposition to the 69-year-old-president, and Hodeidah on the Red Sea.

Yemenis flooded the streets of Sanaa and Taiz on Friday in rival demonstrations for and against Saleh, who gave a guarded welcome to a Gulf Arab plan for a three-month transition of power.

The proposal of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) calls for Saleh to hand power to his vice president one month after signing an agreement.

He would appoint an opposition leader to lead an interim cabinet charged with preparing presidential elections two months later, a Yemeni official said on Friday.

The plan, presented on Thursday, also gives immunity from prosecution to Saleh, his family and aides -- anathema to his foes, who would also have to end protests under the proposal.

Saleh's long-time Gulf and Western allies, concerned that the chaos in Yemen will open more opportunities for al Qaeda militants, are trying to broker an orderly transition after three months of protests against Saleh's 32-year rule.

Civil Disobedience in Aden and other Provinces

By Faitk Al-rodaini
Sana'a, Apr 23, 2011- At least one person was wounded in southern port of Aden during a bid for Yemen's security forces to open streets for people in Al-Mola district after civil disobedience took place in the province.
Today, civil disobedience was carried out in Yemen’s business capital after the youths across the country called for civil disobedience.
Aden has been experiencing civil disobedience and escalating antigovernment protests for a fourth week and the response to the escalation was a sign of the success of the popular uprising. Abyan and lahj provinces joined to the call of carrying civil disobedience for the first time since the beginning of the protest against President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime.
Last week, Ibb, Shabwa, Baeda, and Sana'a provinces saw a partial civil disobedience in protest of Saleh regime.

Yemen peace plan requires Saleh to resign

By FT Reporters

April 23 2011

A proposed deal to end Yemen’s long-running crisis hung in the balance on Friday as regime supporters and opponents fought each other and among themselves over a proposal for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stand down within two months.

While Mr Saleh made a qualified pledge to “work with” the plan put forward by the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council, officials on both sides of the political divide have sent out mixed messages about whether they would accept the agreement.

The Gulf initiative and the turmoil it has provoked highlight the volatility and regional importance of a country that is the poorest in the Arab world and has become a haven for terrorists despite Mr Saleh’s co-operation with the US.

The deal calls for the formation within a week of a national unity government including Mr Saleh’s party, but headed by the main opposition bloc, pending presidential elections with­in two months.

The proposal would “work on ending the political and security crisis within 30 days”, after which the president would resign, a senior government official told the Financial Times. He added that the ruling party had accepted the plan “without reservation”.

But Mr Saleh offered a cooler reaction, telling tens of thousands of loyalists gathered before his palace only that he would “work with the Gulf initiative, within the framework of the Yemeni constitution”.

Western countries are now relying on the Gulf council to secure a peaceful transfer of power and end Yemen’s 10-week uprising, in which more than 130 protesters have been killed. A UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday called by Germany failed to issue a condemnation of the violence, amid objections by Russia and China.

Yemen’s diverse opposition coalition has its own internal conflicts between the desires of a largely leaderless youth movement, which wants Mr Saleh and all trappings of his regime gone, and the prospect offered by the GCC of unseating the ruling party for the first time in the country’s history.

Some protesters argue that opposition leaders, many of whom are former allies of Mr Saleh, have no right to offer concessions. “The opposition talks as if they own the street, but we might have to overthrow them too,” said Farea al-Muslimi, a youth activist.