Monday, September 26, 2011

Yemen protesters reject Saleh’s call for polls

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.

Saleh Return Fails to End Yemen Clashes as Protesters Shun Talks

September 26, 2011

By Mohammed Hatem

Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across Yemen to reject calls by President Ali Abdullah Saleh for negotiations with the opposition.

Opposition leaders called on supporters to mark today’s national holiday commemorating a 1962 uprising that ended the monarchy with demonstrations against Saleh, who has ruled the Arab world’s poorest country for more than three decades. Protesters today in Sana’a and Taiz called for a “new revolution.”

“Our protests will escalate and we are confident we will win,” said Tawakul Karaman, the head of Women Journalists Without Chains, a Sana’a-based human rights organization. “We will arrest him and bring him to court.”

Violence in Yemen threatens to mirror the situation across the Gulf of Aden in Somalia, which has been mired in a civil war for two decades and hasn’t had a functioning central government since 1991. At least 150 people have been killed in two weeks of fighting. Saleh returned to Yemen on Sept. 24 from Saudi Arabia, where he was receiving treatment.

Saleh’s government has said rising social unrest threatens to strengthen al-Qaeda, a concern also expressed by the U.S. The group has sought to use Yemen as a base from which to destabilize neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of crude oil, and for attempted attacks on international targets including two U.S. synagogues last year.

Elections Call

Saleh called late yesterday for parliamentary and presidential elections on the basis of an accord proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional bloc that includes the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.

“We have talked repeatedly about the peaceful transfer of power through the ballot boxes,” Saleh said in a televised address on the eve of Yemen’s Revolution Day. “We are committed to the Gulf initiative and to implementing it.”

Protests have persisted since the government and the main opposition group, the Joint Meetings Parties, failed three times to sign the plan. Under the terms of the proposal, Saleh would cede power within a month of signing the deal and be granted immunity from prosecution. A transition would follow within 60 days.

Violence erupted in Sana’a the last time the talks collapsed. The president left for Saudi Arabia on June 5 for medical treatment after being wounded by a rocket that slammed into the mosque in his presidential compound. Sixteen people were killed in the attack and more than 100 wounded.

‘Cunning Tactics’

Saleh’s latest offer is an attempt to “avoid more international pressure,” Karaman said in a telephone interview. “We are fed up with his cunning tactics.”

Saleh said he supported the “legitimate demands” of political parties and Yemeni youth, adding that some groups are committing “crimes” to seize power and wealth.

Government forces opened fire yesterday on tens of thousands of protesters, wounding 17, three of whom are in critical condition, said Mohammed Qubatai, a doctor at the field clinic at the protest camp dubbed Change Square. Al Jazeera later said that four people were killed.

Armed tribesmen from Yemen’s Nihm region north of Sana’a have taken control of a military camp from the elite Republican Guard, Naji al-Nihmi, a tribal leader, said in a telephone interview. At least six tribesmen were killed and 28 others wounded in clashes between the two groups, al-Nihmi said.

‘Rotten Regime’

The demonstrations in Yemen, inspired by revolts that ousted the leaders of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, began in January and deepened as military and tribal leaders joined the opposition.

“We will not stop protests till this rotten regime is gone,” said Mohamed Hadian, a protester marching in Sana’a today.

Yemeni authorities “appeared to have lost effective control of parts of the country and within the major cities,” the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a Sept. 13 report. It warned that Yemen faced civil war.

Saleh became leader of North Yemen in 1978 and has ruled the Republic of Yemen since the north and south merged in 1990. He has repeatedly said that his immediate departure could lead to chaos and a four-way split of the country.

Yemen urged to end violence, civilian attacks

Bikya Masr Staff | 26 September 2011

UN demands end to violence, civilian attacks in Yemen.

The United Nations Security Council has urged all sides in Yemen to refrain from violence, including attacks against unarmed and peaceful civilian demonstrators, and called on them to abide by their obligations under international law.

In a press statement issued on Saturday by Ambassador Nawaf Salam of Lebanon, which holds the Council presidency this month, the 15-member United Nations body called upon all parties to move forward urgently in an inclusive, orderly and Yemeni-led process of political transition on the basis of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s initiative, which meets the aspirations of the Yemeni people for change.

Members of the Council expressed their grave concern over the serious deterioration of the economic and humanitarian situation in Yemen, and voiced their deep concern over the worsening security situation, including the threat from Al-Qaida in parts of Yemen.

“The members of the Security Council urged parties to ensure access for the provision of humanitarian assistance, expressed their concern about the increasing interruption of basic supplies, and urged all parties not to target vital infrastructure,” according to the statement.

On Friday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took note of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s return to Yemen and reiterated his call on the Government and opposition groups to engage with his special adviser to peacefully resolve the ongoing crisis in the country.

Fresh violence has flared up in Yemen between security forces and protesters seeking to oust Saleh – part of a wider wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. The president returned to Yemen on Friday after nearly four months in Saudi Arabia, where he was reportedly seeking medical treatment.

Yemeni tribesmen overrun loyalist army base

September 26, 2011 (AP)

SANAA, Yemen — Anti-government tribesmen overran an army base housing an elite unit north of Yemen's capital early Monday, security officials said, capturing 30 soldiers and dealing a blow to the prestige of the powerful Republican Guards led by the son of the country's embattled president.

Yemen has been wracked by violence since February when an uprising broke out to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Government forces have killed hundreds in an attempt to stamp out the revolt, and the crackdown has intensified since Saleh returned Friday from neighboring Saudi Arabia where he was receiving treatment for wounds and burns suffered in a June attack on his Sanaa compound.

The assault by the tribesman on the Republican Guards' base at Dahrah took place early Monday. The Defense Ministry said in a statement that the base commander, Brig. Ali al-Keleibi, was killed in the fighting. The statement gave no further details of Monday's fighting.

The officials said the tribesmen captured 30 guards when they seized control of the facility. At least four tribesmen were killed and 27 others wounded in the fighting, but the officials had no word on casualties among the guards. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

It was the second Republican Guards' base to be captured in a week. Protesters backed by renegade soldiers overran a base belonging to the guards last week in Sanaa as the opposition stepped up its campaign to oust Saleh.

The Yemeni leader is under tremendous pressure from street protesters, neighboring Arab nations and the United States to transfer power and end the country's deepening crisis, which has killed hundreds since anti-government demonstrations began in February, ignited by the unrest sweeping the Arab world.

Al-Qaida-linked fighters have already taken advantage of Yemen's unrest to overrun several towns in southern Yemen, expanding their range of influence beyond the country's hinterlands. In a televised address Sunday, Saleh accused his opponents of cooperating with al-Qaida, plotting a coup and shedding blood in an attempt to seize power.

He also has signaled an intention several times to sign a U.S.-backed deal to step aside in exchange for immunity from prosecution only to back out at the last minute.

In Sunday's address, Saleh said he was committed to the deal, which was drafted by an alliance of Gulf nations that includes powerful Saudi Arabia. His opponents, however, do not trust him and believe he is stalling for time while consolidating his hold on power.

Saleh has tasked his vice president with overseeing negotiations on the deal, but at no point in his address did he provide any indication he might agree to demands to step down immediately.

Meanwhile on Monday, thousands of protesters were gathering for a massive demonstration at Sanaa's Central Change square, the epicenter of the Yemen uprising, but there have been no reports of clashes so far.

At least 150 people, mostly protesters, renegade soldiers and tribesmen, have been killed over the past week as pro-government forces used what many see as excessive force. They rained mortar shells on protesters and fired on crowds with anti-aircraft guns. Snipers stationed on rooftops have also picked off protesters on the streets below.