Sep 7, 2011
SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen's ruling party on Wednesday approved changes to a plan to ease President Ali Abdullah Saleh from office in hopes of defusing a stalemate that has paralysed the country and given a lift to militants suspected of links to al Qaeda.
Saleh, who is in Saudi Arabia recovering from a June assassination attempt, has defied months of mass protests against his autocratic 33-year rule and confounded international efforts to solve the crisis.
Last month, he gave the green light for his GPC party to accept amendments to a transition plan brokered by Yemen's Gulf neighbours and it was approved after two days of discussions.
"We reached an agreement with difficulty ... There were extremist elements who opposed the plan," said a party member present at the conference who declined to give his name.
The United States and neighbouring oil giant Saudi Arabia, wary that upheaval in Yemen could give al Qaeda's local branch more leeway to operate, have pushed for Saleh to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative for a transition of power, a blueprint that has been amended a number of times.
The initiative looked dead in the water after Saleh on three occasions backed out of signing it at the very last minute.
Amendments approved by Saleh's party would have him transfer his powers to his vice president, Abbd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, after signing the deal but gives him three months to formally step down, as opposed to previous plans stipulating 30 days.
After Saleh leaves, elections would be held and the opposition would form an interim unity government for a two-year transition period, retaining Hadi as interim president.
The government would use the time to draft a new constitution and hold a dialogue with insurgent groups such as Shi'ite Muslim rebels in the north and separatists in the south.
The new plan also requires a restructuring of the Yemeni military within three months of Saleh signing the deal. At present, Saleh's family dominates the armed forces high command. His son, Ahmed Ali Saleh, who the opposition worries is being groomed to succeed him, heads the elite Republican Guard.
Away from the negotiating table, violence raged on in Yemen's south where fighters believed to belong to al Qaeda have seized at least three towns, a local official said on Wednesday.
Warplanes bombed suspected militant strongholds in the volatile southern province of Abyan on Wednesday, killing many, including civilians in the city of Jaar, a local official said. He was not able to estimate the number of casualties.
One resident said he counted 24 air strikes on the city and that residents were leaving in droves to escape the bloodshed.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis have fled Abyan in recent months as the army tries to regain control of lost ground.
Three militants were killed on Wednesday in a strike on the coastal town of Shaqra, which Islamist fighters seized last month, a security official said.
Opponents of Saleh accuse him of exaggerating the threat of al Qaeda and even encouraging militancy to scare Washington and Riyadh into backing him to avoid a breakdown into anarchy.