Friday, November 18, 2011

Protesters pray in Yemen, U.N. envoy pushes for peace

Fri Nov 18, 2011

SANAA (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Yemeni worshippers gathered in Sanaa for Friday prayers, demanding Ali Abdullah Saleh be tried for alleged use of violence against demonstrators, as a U.N. envoy struggled to reach a deal to ease the president out of office.

As protesters marking the "Friday of Female Martyrs of the Revolution" held prayers in the capital's Sixty Street, U.N. envoy Jamal Benomar met opposition officials to try and broker a deal to end months of protests that have paralyzed the country.

"The martyrs wrote with blood, Saleh must be tried," the crowds chanted before the Friday prayers began.

Armed soldiers loyal to a dissident general who defected to the opposition earlier this year guarded demonstrators as they filled the main street, where a Muslim preacher called on the Arab League to impose sanctions on Saleh and recognize a council set up by the opposition as a representative body.

"We urge the Arab League to freeze Yemen's membership, as it did with the Syrian regime, and recognize the National Council as the legitimate representative," the preacher said.

Opposition leaders met Benomar again on Friday after talks late into the night on Thursday, but an opposition official said there was no progress on efforts to get Saleh to sign the Gulf initiative power transfer deal, designed to remove him after 33 years in office.


The Gulf initiative grants Saleh immunity from prosecution and allows him to keep his wealth.

The opposition says Saleh has been demanding changes to the initiative that would effectively allow him to retain most of his powers during a transitional period until new elections, a demand rejected by demonstrators and the opposition.

The stand-off has pushed Yemen to the brink of civil war and allowed Islamist militants to seize control of swathes of territory in the impoverished Arab country bordering Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter.

The U.N. envoy flew to Yemen last Thursday to follow up on a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted last month calling on Saleh to immediately sign the initiative.

The opposition official said Benomar was expected to travel to Saudi Arabia on Saturday and return to Sanaa before he leaves the country to submit a report on his mission to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York.

"The negotiations being conducted by Benomar do not concern us," said Anwar al-Sharaabi, a demonstrator at the Sixty street told Reuters. "Yet, it will not succeed," he added.

The Sanaa protest comes a week after at least four women were killed in the city of Taiz, some 200 km (120 miles) south of Sanaa, by government forces who shelled the ancient city during clashes with armed tribesmen.

An opposition website quoted the director of a Taiz hospital where victims of the violence had been taken as saying 154 people had been killed and 2,000 wounded in the city since the uprising began in February. The doctor said 51 people died in the last month alone in Taiz.

Record surge of people flee Somalia and Ethiopia for Yemen

GENEVA, November 18, 2011 — Yemen has seen a surge of refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia, with a record 12,545 arriving by sea last month as they fled unrest, famine and persecution, the UN refugee agency said on Friday.

The October total — the highest since UNHCR records began in 2006 — brings the number of people who arrived in Yemen by boat this year to 84,656, well above the 2009 high of 77,000.

Of the arrivals roughly three quarters were from Ethiopia and the remainder from Somalia.

“We are really experiencing a surge,” said Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Somalis said conflict, insecurity, drought and famine were driving them to leave their country, while Ethiopians cited a lack of economic opportunities, with some saying they had fled in fear of persecution in their region.

The UNHCR said it was concerned that most arrive in Yemen unaware of the insecurity and fighting in many parts of the country “which makes further movement difficult and risky.”

“We are concerned about an increasing trend of abductions, extortions, kidnappings and sexual assaults targeting refugees, and particularly Ethiopian migrants,” a statement said.

Between 2006 and 2008, Somali refugees accounted for the majority of all arrivals in Yemen, but Ethiopian migrants have since constituted the largest group among those crossing the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

The United Nations on Friday downgraded famine declarations in three Somali regions, but warned the crisis remains the worst in the world with nearly 250,000 people facing imminent starvation.

Much of southern Somalia is controlled by Islamist Shebab rebels, who are battling both the Western-backed government in Mogadishu and Kenyan troops in the far south, after Nairobi sent troops across the border last month.

Agence France-Presse

Reuters cuts ties with journalist working for Yemeni president

Reuters defends its position for using stringer it knew was a government translator and says journalist is no longer working for the news agency

18 November 2011 By: Sarah Marshall

Reuters has defended its position in continuing to employ a stringer in Yemen despite knowing he was also working as a translator for the country's president.

The news agency last night released a statement to say Mohamed Sudam was no longer working for the organisation and confirmed it knew the stringer was also an English translator for President Saleh.

"Sudam’s work as a Reuters stringer over the course of many years has been fair and accurate. When he became a translator for the president, he disclosed his role to Reuters. On reviewing the matter, however, we believe it's not appropriate to use a stringer who is also working for the government. He is no longer reporting for us from Yemen."

Yemen has witnessed anti-government demonstrations during the past nine months with repeated calls for President Saleh to step down.

Last month Sudam was briefly kidnapped in Yemen, according to several reports including a post by Guardian correspondent Brian Whitaker, with the Yemen Journalists Syndicate calling for his release.

The severing of ties by Reuters follows a #shameonreuters Twitter hashtag and Facebook campaign against Sudam's links to the news agency stating "this page was created to tell Reuters to have respect to the people of Yemen".

Reuters posted its statement confirming it was no longer employing Sudam as a stringer on Facebook.

Yemeni ruling party blames defectors for hindering power transfer

SANAA, Nov. 17 (Xinhua) -- The Yemeni ruling party on Thursday blamed pro-opposition defected army and dissident armed tribesmen for hampering the achievement of the UN-backed Gulf initiative for transferring power from President Ali Abdullah Saleh, local media reported.

"Every time we (the ruling party) and the opposition leaders approach a compromise to implement the Gulf Cooperation Council ( GCC) initiative and end the crisis, the opposition's allies of the defected army and dissident armed tribesmen disrupted the situation militarily either in Sanaa or Taiz," 26 September newspaper cited Ahmed bin Daghar, assistant secretary-general of the ruling party, as saying.

"What is happening now in Taiz is linking to opposing the ongoing peaceful solutions, especially after the renegade forces' leaders realized that they won't be protected by the GCC initiative or the UN resolution and will be brought to justice for involving in the June attack on the presidential palace," bin Daghar said.

The government accused defected general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the commander of the First Armored Division, and powerful tribal leader Sadiq al-Ahmar and his brother Hameed of masterminding an " assassination" bomb attack which hit the presidential compound on June 3, killing at least 13 high-ranking military and government officials and injuring 87 others, including Saleh. However, the opposition coalition denied the accusation on August 7.

The June attack took place a few days after pitched street battles between al-Ahmar's tribal fighters and Saleh's forces flared in downtown Sanaa following Saleh's refusal to sign the GCC deal on May 22.

Meanwhile, during a meeting with U.S. ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein on Wednesday, al-Ahmar said that "he supports the protesters' demand of canceling the immunity from prosecution of Saleh or any of his aides."

The GCC initiative, which was backed by the UN resolution on Oct. 21, stipulates Saleh to hand over power to his deputy Abd- Rabbu Mansour Hadi and quit in 30 days in return for immunity from prosecution. Hadi would then form an opposition-led national government and arrange presidential elections in 60 days.

Saleh has backed out of signing the initiative for three times in the last minutes, confronting the 10-month-old protests.

Security Council to put new focus on Yemen crisis

November 18, 2011 (AFP)

UNITED NATIONS — The UN Security Council will on Monday discuss the refusal of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh to hand over power with increasing violence heightening pressure for international action, diplomats said.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakul Karman, a leading Yemeni activist, held talks with several UN envoys on Thursday as part of her campaign against Saleh. Karman is to lead a rally outside the UN headquarters on Friday.

The 15-member Security Council unanimously passed resolution 2014 on October 21 condemning attacks on demonstrators by Saleh government forces and strongly backing a Gulf Cooperation Council plan under which Saleh would end his 33 years in power.

Saleh is refusing to sign the plan however and the death toll in Yemen is mounting. Several hundred demonstrators have been killed since anti-government protests started in January and the authority of the government has been eroded across Yemen.

Karman met France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud on Thursday to discuss the crisis.

The two highlighted "that despite the appeals of the international community, and particularly the Security Council, the violence and the violations of human rights are continuing," said a French mission spokesman.

"The political transition demanded under resolution 2014 has not been started," the spokesman added.

The French spokesman said that the Security Council meeting could "consider the next steps and the means to get resolution 2014 applied."

UN envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, is to brief the Security Council on Monday on his latest talks with Saleh in Yemen.

Benomar said in Sanaa on Tuesday that he had made some progress on the handover. "But differences remain over the beginning of the transition -- mainly, one the powers of the vice president and the status of President Saleh."

Under the Gulf states plan, Saleh would hand over power to his vice president to head a transitional government.