Thursday, August 11, 2011

Abdu al Guindy warned against umbrella council

Fri, 12 August 2011

Cairo/Sanaa — Yemeni Deputy Information Minister Abdu al Guindy warned yesterday against a plan by Yemen’s opposition to establish an umbrella council aimed at taking over power in the country.

“This council will either be born dead as happened before or will be a call for war,” he was quoted by the state Yemeni news agency as telling a press conference in the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

The opposition coalition the Common Forum has set August 17 for meeting to elect an umbrella “National Council” that it says will “lead the revolution forces to move ahead to fulfil Yemeni people’s aspirations.” “The parties that will form this council will cast themselves as the supreme power replacing the people. This is a serious move,” added Al Guindy.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is staying in Saudi Arabia after being discharged from a military hospital where he received medical treatment for injuries he suffered in an attack on his palace in Sanaa in early June.

Millions of Yemenis have been taking to the streets since February demanding Saleh’s ouster. Al Guindy said that a plan proposed by the Gulf Co-operation Council for power transfer in Yemen was still valid. “President Saleh is not against the Gulf initiative. He is keen on reaching an agreement on mechanisms for its implementation,” he added.

Meanwhile, four suspected Al Qaeda members have been killed by army fire outside the southern Yemeni city of Zinjibar, most of which has fallen under the control of fighters, a local official said yesterday. — dpa/AFP

Saleh’s recovery spurs Yemen peace quest

By Abigail Fielding-Smith in Beirut

Efforts to end Yemen’s political standoff have intensified following the release from a Saudi hospital of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was wounded in a June attack.

Fears have grown that Mr Saleh’s promised return to Sana’a could heighten tensions in the capital.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Yemen earlier this year, calling for the president’s departure. He was taken to neighbouring Saudi Arabia for emergency treatment after being injured in an attack on his palace in Sana’a.

He left hospital last weekend and remains in Riyadh.

In recent days, speculation has risen that he has been pressured by the US to remain in Saudi Arabia to facilitate a transfer of power. Officials in Sana’a have insisted he will return to Yemen.

Mr Saleh initially agreed to transfer power to Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, his vice-president, in May, but then backed out of the plan devised by the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), triggering an outbreak of violence in the capital.

His lead negotiator has been shuttling between Riyadh and Sana’a since early August.

This week, Mr Saleh met some of his top officials. “He agreed with them to explore ways of restarting the GCC initiative and of creating a mechanism that will ensure a peaceful transfer of power,” a ruling party official told Reuters news agency.

Under the latest plan, elections would be held at the end of the year, according to a western diplomat in Sana’a. The previous plan, brokered by Gulf Arab countries, called for Mr Saleh to transfer power to the vice-president within 30 days of an agreement being signed. A new government would then call elections within 60 days. It is not clear whether Mr Saleh would return to Yemen or not under the agreement currently being discussed.

Officially, the opposition parties are seeking to form a national council of the revolution to intensify the uprising. But diplomats and analysts say the opposition has few options other than try to negotiate a plan for the transfer of power with the ruling party.

Protesters continue to gather in squares across the country. But fuel shortages and rising prices are taking their toll on the movement.

“I wasn’t able to go to the square every day because a taxi costs four or five times more than it used to,” said one protester. “I’m really surprised that many people are still going.”

Fears persist that Yemen will slip into civil war if the stalemate continues.

The army has been divided since a leading commander declared his support for the protest movement in March. Both sides of the divided army are de­ployed on Sana’a’s streets, where residents have reported a build-up of military equipment. Sporadic fighting has flared between the country’s heavily armed tribes and security forces.

Opposition politicians are expected to be wary of any agreement with Mr Saleh.

A master of tactical evasion, he has survived six months of popular protests, the defection of a substantial part of his military and numerous ambassadors, calls from his former allies in Washington for him to transfer power, and an apparent assassination attempt – while backing down three times on a deal to transfer power.

“Even though he has played so many people before, there is no choice but to believe him,” said Abdulghani Eryani, a Sana’a-based analyst.

“The only other option is civil war.”

Yemen’s GPC Has U.S. Backing?

August 11, 2011 by UPI - United Press International, Inc.

SANAA, Yemen, Aug. 11 (UPI) — Washington believes the return of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is part of the solution to the political crisis there, a Yemeni politician said.

Saleh was released this week from a hospital in Saudi Arabia, where he was recovering from injuries suffered during a June 3 attack on a presidential compound.

There are differing reports on whether Saleh is expected to return to Yemen.

Abdel-Hafiz al-Nahari, a deputy spokesman for the ruling General People’s Congress, told London’s pan-Arab daily newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that Washington wanted Saleh back in Sanaa.

“The U.S. position today toward the situation in Yemen is more understanding than at any time before and they are aware that the return of the president is part of the solution, not part of the problem,” he was quoted as saying.

The U.S. State Department had said political transition was being handicapped by the situation in Yemen.

Mark Toner, a spokesman for the State Department, said this week that Yemen should move “immediately” toward political transition. Asked about what would happen if Saleh returned, he said “he’s not in the country right now, so we believe it can move forward without him.”

Hard-liner said to take over al-Shabaab

Aug. 11, 2011

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Aug. 11 (UPI) -- The Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab, increasingly a target for covert U.S. operations, was reported Thursday to have replaced its longtime leader, Ahmad Abdi Godane, with a seasoned military commander who advocates global jihad.

If the reported elevation of Ibrahim Haji Mead, aka Ibrahim al-Afghani, is correct, it would put the veteran of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Kashmir squarely in U.S. gun sights at a critical time.

Washington fears an alliance between al-Shabaab and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia.

U.S. counter-terrorism chiefs deem AQAP to be the most dangerous jihadist group for the United States in the world.

Washington has been stepping up clandestine operations by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command in recent months and several senior jihadists have been reported killed, part of a series of reverses suffered by the al-Shabaab.

It's likely U.S. forces will seek to exploit the group's change of leadership and the internal rivalries that played a key part in bringing it about.

The reports that Afghani is overall leader of al-Shabaab remain unconfirmed.

Afghani, like Godane, hails from the powerful Isaaq clan and the U.S. global security consultancy Stratfor questioned whether the new leadership will mark a significant shift in the group's ideological direction or its military capabilities.

But the reported command change follows persistent signs of serious differences within the group regarding his leadership since September 2010 between Godane, aka Abu Zubair, and clan chieftains who are more nationalist in ideology than the hard-liners bent on global jihad.

These differences centered initially on a failed al-Shabaab offensive last year against the beleaguered Western-backed Transitional Federal Government, whose ragtag army is bolstered by a 9,000-man African Union "peacekeeping force" known as Amisom.

Stratfor observed that "elements within the group, especially those with more nationalist ideologies, have grown increasingly critical since September when a failed offensive on Mogadishu left hundreds of militants dead."

The nationalist factions that provided fighters for the push, particularly the Rahanweyn clan of rival commander Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansour, were incensed when it became known that Godane, who had planned the offensive, ordered Abu Mansour's wounded clansmen shot rather than given medical aid.

There were also reports at the time that Godane pushed rival clans into the forefront of the fighting rather than his own people.

Those heavy losses and last week's surprise retreat by al-Shabaab from Mogadishu, most of which it had controlled since 2007, in the face of a major offensive by TFG and Amisom forces intensified dissatisfaction with Godane's leadership.

Al-Shabaab was forced to abandon the Bakara Market, Mogadishu's commercial heart and a key source of revenue in the form of "taxes" imposed on merchants.

Meantime, the Americans have been developing their intelligence-gathering capabilities in Somalia, as they have in Yemen, and it's likely they'll try to hit al-Shabaab while it's reeling.

U.S. security specialist Jeremy Scahill says the CIA has in recent months established a clandestine counter-terrorism center at a fortified compound at Mogadishu's Aden Adde International Airport.

He reported in July that the CIA runs "a counter-terrorism training program for Somali intelligence agents and operatives aimed at building up an indigenous strike force capable of snatch operations and targeted 'combat' operations against members of al-Shabaab.

"As part of its expanding counter-terrorism program in Somalia, the CIA also uses a secret prison buried in the basement of Somalia's National Security Agency headquarters where prisoners suspected of being al-Shabaab members or having links to the group are held."

Scahill reported that there are usually as many as 30 CIA officers in Mogadishu. They're aided by French intelligence agents.

The Americans also fear that an al-Shabaab-AQAP alliance could result in the Islamists securing control of the Bab-al Mandeb Strait at the southern end of the Red Sea.

This is a vital maritime artery between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean through which much of the oil heading west from the Persian Gulf passes.

U.S. authorities also worry that such an alliance, which leaders in both groups appear to have been seeking, would give AQAP access to 40-50 American citizens of Somali extraction in al-Shabaab who could be used to penetrate homeland security to carry out attacks in the United States.

As Yemen Crisis Drags On, Risks Grow

August 11, 2011

Elizabeth Arrott | Cairo

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh says he is working on a plan for a peaceful transition of power, even as opponents announce they will unilaterally create what looks like an alternative government.

The main opposition coalition will meet next week to form what it's calling a "national council" to step up the pressure against Saleh, who is currently in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. The opposition Joint Meeting Parties want to unite the demands of street protesters and other anti-government forces seeking an end to Saleh's decades-long rule.

Government officials are warning against any such council, saying it would be a declaration of war against the state. Moreover, they say, it is unnecessary. Yemen's state media report that the president is again considering a plan by the Gulf Cooperation Council that outlines the steps toward a post-Saleh Yemen. The president is quoted as saying late Wednesday that his government is committed to finding solutions to the "disagreement" with the opposition.

Saleh was shown in a video from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he has been recovering from a bomb blast at his presidential compound in June. He appeared more vigorous than in previous images. However, his comments about the GCC plan came under question. He has agreed to the GCC proposal three times in recent months, each time backing out at the last minute.

The ongoing stalemate, now in its seventh month, is raising further alarms abroad. The U.N. Security Council this week expressed its concerns, which range from a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen, to the instability being exploited by the Yemen-based terrorist group, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

U.N. Security Council President Hardeep Singh Puri urged all parties to reject violence as a solution to the political crisis.

"The members of the Security Council also called on all parties to move forward urgently, and an inclusive, orderly and Yemeni-led process of political transition that meets the needs and aspirations of the Yemeni people for change," said Puri.

Yemen's government stresses that change will not be brought about by any external pressure.

Officials this week rejected a report that the United States and Saudi Arabia are urging Saleh not to return to Sana'a. A U.S. State Department spokesman also denied the report, saying it was up to the president to return or not. Washington has long supportedSaleh as a bulwark against al-Qaida.

Yemeni political commentator Nasser Arrabyee says Saleh's whereabouts are likely not as important as his actual involvement in the process.

"Saleh still has a lot of support," he said. "His supporters are millions here and that's why the international community is focusing on a constitutional transition, which means that it is only President Saleh who will do this constitutional transition."

Arrabyee says the alternative, more violence between government forces and its opponents, is in no one's interest. But he adds that the longer the situation drags on, the greater the chance that militant forces can coopt the original pro-reform movement.

"The protesters are still there in the streets," said Arrabyee. "But their leaders are doing something else. They are now involved in military confrontations, under the leadership of al Ahmar, and they have also the defected general Ali Mohsen, who also supported the protests but he is involved in many military confrontations."

Tribal leader Sadiq al-Ahmar, whose members have already fought fierce battles against government troops, joined forces late last month with other tribal groups to form the Alliance of Yemeni Tribes. The well-armed tribes say any aggression against the protesters will be considered an attack against them.