Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Yemen’s Saleh Agrees to Transitional Talks With Opposition, Official Says

By Mohammed Hatem - Jun 29, 2011

Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh has authorized the start of transition talks with the nation’s main opposition coalition, said Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, the minister of foreign affairs in the caretaker government.

Saleh, who is in Saudi Arabia recovering for wounds suffered in an attack on the presidential compound, approved talks based on the Gulf Cooperation Council plan and UN Security Council statements, said al-Qirbi in a statement carried on state TV.

That GCC plan, which the United States supports, calls for Saleh to surrender power in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Saleh has agreed to the plan three times in recent months, refusing at the last minute each time to sign an accord.

Ruling party officials have been refusing any talks on power transition awaiting the return of Saleh from Saudi Arabia.

The minister said that he met Saleh today in his hospital in Saudi Arabia and discussed with him the situation in the country and the political crisis.

He said the political talks will involve the main opposition coalition known as Joint Meeting Parties, the separatist Southern Movement and the Shiite Houthi rebels in order “to formulate the new future of Yemen.”

Mohammed Qahtan, spokesman of the JMP, said that the situation of the country does not allow for any more meetings and negotiations.

“The first step should be transferring power to the vice president and then, we can start talking about other issues,” he said by phone. “There is no much time to waste in talks before this step,” Mr Qahtan said by phone.

In a separate televised message, Health Minister Abdulkarim Rasee said that he also met with Saleh and that he is in good health. Saleh will address the nation soon and talk to the people about about his health, he said.

Yemeni VP: Saleh's return is 'a decision up to the doctors'

By Nic Robertson, CNN Senior International Correspondent

June 29, 2011

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- The Yemeni government has lost control over five provinces, and security in the country is deteriorating, the nation's acting president told CNN in an exclusive interview Wednesday.

In his first interview with a western TV network, Vice President Abdu Rabu Mansoor Hadi detailed how U.S. drones are using voice recognition to target al Qaeda leaders and help the government win back control.

Hadi has been Yemen's acting president since President Ali Abdullah Saleh was injured in an a June 3 attack on the mosque at the presidential palace.

During the hour-long meeting, Hadi said Saleh's injuries from what he described as an assassination attempt are so severe he has no idea when the president will return from medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.

Hadi said he saw Saleh immediately after the bomb attack. The 68-year-old ruler had a piece of wood piercing his chest and burns to his face, arms and upper body, Hadi said, noting that the president's health was improving daily.

The interview in the sprawling and heavily defended defense ministry underlined the many challenges facing the vice president, whom many in the opposition consider as a weak placeholder until the president returns from Saudi Arabia.

He admits that his house is surrounded by opposing forces, but he challenges claims that he is unable to use the presidential palace. Hadi says he calls Saleh's son, commander of the powerful Republican Guard at the palace, whenever he wants to give him orders.

He countered opposition accusations he has no power saying he has been given full authority to sign a new UN sponsored peace proposal. He out lined plans that are even less favorable to Saleh's opponents than a Gulf Cooperation Council initiative he has already turned down.

Hadi said the new deal would have Saleh only stepping down when a new president has been elected, a far cry from the GCC proposal that has Saleh handing power to Hadi after 30 days with new elections within 60 days.

At times, Hadi -- who lived in the United Kingdom during the 1960s -- was shifting uncomfortably in his seat, even joking at the end of the interview that he felt he'd been through an interrogation. Nevertheless, he gave a robust defense of Saleh, challenging the widely held view that the embattled leader is now part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Saleh still has 3 million supporters, Hadi said.

When asked how al Qaeda was taking advantage of deteriorating security, Hadi said government forces were targeting them aggressively, detailing an ongoing operation in the southern Abyan province, where the capital recently fell to al Qaeda.

He also gave a detailed account of how U.S. spy planes eavesdrop on al Qaeda conversations, running voice recognition analysis that is shared with Yemeni authorities -- as well as the CIA and the FBI -- before targets are attacked. Often, he said, the United States provides the targeting information and Yemeni military forces carry out the attacks.

Hadi offered few insights in to how he plans to end Yemen's spiraling economic hardships, growing fuel and power shortages and rising food prices -- issues that have sparked massive anti-government protests over the past several months and have sharply worsened since the President left for treatment in Saudi Arabia.

But he said he expected Saleh to make a speech to the nation in the coming hours that will help change the situation.

Saleh went to Saudi Arabia for treatment after several doctors, examined the him shortly after the attack in early June. They recommended he get attention from multiple specialists including an eye doctor. Since arriving there he said the President had been improving and fully intends to return.

But when asked when that would be, he showed how little he appears to be trusted by the country's only real power broker.

"It could be months. This is a decision up to the doctors. ... I have no idea about the exact date when he is coming," Hadi said.

Yemen air force jet bombs bus by mistake; 4 dead


The Associated Press

SANAA, Yemen — A Yemeni air force jet mistakenly bombed a bus Wednesday in a southern town controlled by Islamic militants, killing four people, as clashes between the fighters and government troops left 23 dead on both sides.

Government forces have been trying for days to drive out the fighters who seized Zinjibar last month. The takeover of the town signaled that Islamic militants are taking advantage of the political turmoil that has gripped Yemen since a popular uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh's rule began in mid-February.

The fighters — some of them believed to be linked to Yemen's al-Qaida branch — have taken over several towns in the south, far from the reach of the central government in the capital, Sanaa.

The airstrike that struck the passenger bus also wounded 12 people, security officials said.

A short while later, militants overran a soccer stadium on the city's outskirts and attacked government troops there, the officials said. The clashes killed 15 security troops. Government warplanes called in again bombed the stadium, killing eight militants.

Several government armored vehicles were destroyed and officials said scores of militants were wounded in the battle.

Also in Zinjibar, officials said militants seized 50 residents, accused them of passing information to the government and locked them inside the governor's office.

Mohammed al-Tumeisy, one of those seized and later released, said his captors had warned he would be executed if he made any contact with the government.

The officials also said government jets on Wednesday bombed the nearby town of Jaar, which was captured by militants in early April. And in the southern port city of Aden, a roadside bomb killed an army colonel late Tuesday.

All the officials giving the accounts of the fighting and casualties spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to talk to the media.

Residents in the south have accused government forces of showing little appetite for facing down the Islamist extremists. The militants in Zinjibar are operating openly there, training with live ammunition and controlling roads with checkpoints.

Their gains have fueled fears that they are successfully exploiting the power vacuum amid the uprising against Saleh.

Meanwhile, in the southern city of Taiz, activist Bushra al-Muktari said the Republican Guards shelled anti-Saleh protesters camped out at a central square early Wednesday, killing one and wounding four demonstrators.

Abdel-Karim al-Shayef, acting governor of Aden, was reported to have defected to Jordan, officials in the governor's office said Wednesday.

Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for nearly 33 years, left for neighboring Saudi Arabia on June 5 to for treatment of severe wounds he suffered when his compound in the capital, Sanaa, was attacked.

It is not clear when — or if — he will return, deepening uncertainty in the poor nation at the southern corner of the Arabian Peninsula.

The political crisis began with protests by largely peaceful crowds that endured a bloody government crackdown. At the end of May, days of street battles broke out in the capital between government forces and armed fighters loyal to Yemen's most powerful tribal leader, who turned against the president.

Both sides announced Wednesday that those battles claimed far more lives than initially reported.

The battles killed 118 policemen and security men and wounded 1,402, Yemen's state television quoted Interior Minister Gen. Mouthar al-Masri as saying.

The TV report said al-Masri was talking to a delegation from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights that is visiting Yemen to investigate possible human rights violations.

The tribal leader, Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, also met with the delegation and said 104 of his men were killed and hundreds others were wounded.

Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis demonstrated Wednesday in Sanaa and six other major cities to demand Saleh's ouster.

(This version CORRECTS first name of Aden's acting governor to Abdel-Karim).)