Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Yemen ruling party OKs modified power transfer plan

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.

Yemen 'can achieve 4.5% growth'

Beleaguered Arab nation can rebound next year if political standoff ends, minister says


September 7, 2011

Riyadh: Yemen's economy can rebound next year and achieve growth of as much as 4.5 per cent if the country's political standoff is resolved, Industry and Trade Minister Hesham Sharaf said.

The government had forecast a similar growth rate this year before protests calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh began in January, and will now "be very lucky" to record 3 per cent expansion, Sharaf said in a phone interview on Sunday from the capital, Sana'a.

Direct and indirect loses to Yemen's economy have reached between $5 billion (Dh18 billion) and $8 billion, Sharaf said. Gross domestic product in 2010 was estimated at $31 billion by the US Central Intelligence Agency.

Yemen, the poorest Arab nation and one that has been used as a base for Al Qaida attacks, has been wracked by violence as the political standoff deepened with military and tribal leaders joining the opposition. Efforts by Gulf Arab countries to mediate an agreement ending Saleh's three-decade rule have repeatedly broken down.

One rebel killed near Yemen's capital

SANAA, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) -- At least one rebel was killed and two others wounded late Tuesday when Yemeni government troops heavily shelled the rebels' hideouts in an area northeast of Sanaa, a local official said.

"One armed tribesman was killed and two others were injured late Tuesday in heavy shelling by the Republican Guards in Samaa military base that targeted several hideouts of the rebels in Arhab district," the official told Xinhua, requesting anonymity.

The official added that the death toll might increase in the next few hours as the shelling is continuing.

The volatile district, about 60 km northeast of Sanaa, has been the front line of almost daily clashes between opposition fighters and Saleh's elite Republican Guards since late May.

Defense Ministry said the opposition militants were seeking to capture the military base, the Sanaa International Airport and northern entrances to Sanaa.

Yemen has been gripped by a political crisis since late January when protests demanding the end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule erupted.

Officials say Yemen airstrikes kill 3 militants

By AHMED AL-HAJ Associated Press


SANAA, Yemen—Yemeni officials say warplanes hunting down al-Qaida suspects have launched a series of airstrikes in the country's southern Abyan province that killed at least three militants.

The officials said the airstrikes Wednesday east of the provincial capital, Zinjibar, targeted a suspected al-Qaida hideout, killing three.

The officials said a senior military commander survived an ambush Tuesday west of the capital while two his guards were killed. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Militants took control of parts of Abyan in March after the turmoil that gripped Yemen following protests demanding the resignation of longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Yemen premier convenes Cabinet after return

Sept 6, 2011

(AP) SANAA, Yemen — Yemen's prime minister on Tuesday conducted his first Cabinet meeting since returning from Saudi Arabia for treatment for wounds he suffered in the same June attack that seriously injured the country's embattled president.

Ali Mohammed Mujawar, who returned to Yemen last week, presided over the Cabinet meeting in a symbolic show of defiance by President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government. Saleh is still in Saudi Arabia, rebuffing international pressure to step down.

Yemen's political infighting has spurred al-Qaida activity in southern Yemen. On Tuesday, four soldiers and six militant were killed in clashes there.

Mujawar is a key Saleh ally, and his return to activity underlines the president's determination to retain power despite months of huge, sometimes violent demonstrations demanding his resignation — and the June 3 bombing of his compound that forced him to leave for Saudi Arabia for treatment.

He has repeatedly rejected a proposal by neighboring Gulf countries to transfer his powers to his vice president. The most recent rejection of the Gulf initiative came on Tuesday by members of Yemen's parliament, controlled by Saleh's party. Saleh's refusal to approve the deal prompted Qatar to recall its ambassador, as thousands of anti-Saleh protesters continue to take to the streets demanding his resignation.

Yemen's political turmoil has allowed militants to take control of parts of the southern Yemen. In recent weeks, government troops backed by U.S. airstrikes have stepped up their attacks on the militants.

Western nations view al-Qaida's branch in Yemen as one of the group's most violent and dangerous.

On Tuesday, Yemeni officials said four soldiers and six militants were killed in clashes in the southern province of Abyan.

Another 12 gunmen and 15 security personnel were injured in those clashes, including three colonels, an official said.

The clashes took place just west of Abyan's capital city, Zinjibar, which is under the control of al-Qaida-linked militants. The lack of security in Zinjibar has sent over 100,000 residents fleeing for refuge in nearby towns.

Officials said gunmen torched several military vehicles in Tuesday's clashes in the town of el-Sima and mined roads leading to Zinjibar.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

The clashes came one day after witnesses and an official said warplanes killed at least seven civilians and a dozen militants. The air raids destroyed a mosque and a hospital.

Around 180 soldiers and over 300 militants were killed in fighting between May and August, according to the Interior Ministry.