September 26, 2011
SANAA - Yemen’s opposition held mass protests Monday, escalating demands for the immediate departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh after the ailing leader said his future should be determined at the ballot box.
Tens of thousands of protesters marched in two demonstrations, one for men and another for women, from Change Square, an AFP correspondent reported.
In Taez, Yemen’s second largest city, hundreds of thousands marched from Jamal street to the protest encampment at Freedom Square.
Mohammed Qahtan, spokesman for the parliamentary Common Forum of opposition parties, said Saleh clearly had no intention of stepping aside.
“Saleh has shown in his address that he is still clinging to power, and that he refuses the Gulf initiative that provides for a political transfer,” Qahtan said.
“After the speech of the president, there is no way to reach a political solution, and the revolution will intensify,” he added.
Saleh, who unexpectedly returned Friday to Yemen after a months-long stay in Saudi Arabia for treatment from bomb blast wounds, late on Sunday challenged the opposition to head to early elections.
“You who are running after power, let us head together toward the ballot boxes. We are against coups,” Saleh said in a speech aired on state television on the 49th anniversary of the September 26, 1962 revolution that saw Yemen proclaimed a republic.
“We have repeatedly called for power transfer through the ballot box... let us head together to dialogue and peaceful rotation over power through the ballot box and early presidential elections as the Gulf initiative stipulates,” he said.
The 69-year-old president has repeatedly refused to sign a power transfer deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in terms of which he would hand power to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi in return for immunity from prosecution.
But he said on Sunday he had authorised Hadi to sign the deal on his behalf.
“We are committed to implementing the Gulf initiative as it is, and to signing it by Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, whom we have authorised in a presidential decree,” he said.
At Change Square, youth protesters were prompt in rejecting Saleh’s speech. “The youth will not accept,” said Walid al-Amari, a leading member of the youth protest committee, addressing demonstrators at the square during the night. “They will not give up until they achieve all the goals of the revolution,” he added, referring to demands that the veteran leader quit power immediately.