Monday, January 16, 2012

Yemen PM says country needs "tens of billions" in aid

By Humeyra Pamuk

ABU DHABI | Mon Jan 16, 2012

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Yemen needs billions of dollars in aid and has received assurances of financial help from oil-rich Gulf Arab neighbors after a year of violent political turmoil over the fate of its president, Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa said on Monday.

Basindwa, who leads a government tasked with preparing for a February election to pick a successor to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, also said he wanted Saleh to leave Yemen before the vote.

"I'm hopeful he will leave (before February 21)," he told Reuters in the interview, on the sidelines of a conference in the United Arab Emirates, one leg of a regional tour aimed at drumming up aid.

"But let us wait and see," he added.

Saleh has agreed to step down under the terms of a deal crafted by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - and backed by a U.N. Security Council resolution - aimed at ending nearly a year of protests demanding he steps down.

Forces loyal to Saleh are believed to have killed over 200 protesters during the uprising, in which a rebel army division and militias loyal to tribal chieftains have waged bouts of open war with his forces in the capital Sanaa and elsewhere.

Basindwa's government signed off on a law granting Saleh and those who worked with him immunity from prosecution, a central element of the deal rejected by youth protesters, who denounce the interim government for agreeing to it.

Basindwa said aid from Yemen's neighbors was crucial to rebuilding the country, one of the poorest in the Arab world, and which the United States and Saudi Arabia view as a potential foothold for al Qaeda.

"In late March or early April they will establish a fund for Yemen," he said. "Yemen needs a lot of money to rebuild to achieve prosperity, to eliminate poverty, unemployment and thereby also terrorism. It needs billions of dollars, tens of billions of dollars."

He said Yemen has received assurances of financial help from the GCC countries led by Saudi Arabia, but no set figures or a timeline for disbursing the funds.

Any aid would bypass his government and be spent directly on approved development projects, he said.

"Our role will be just to submit a list of projects Yemen needs in all its governorates," Basindwa said.

"They'll after (that) hold tenders and choose the right companies to implement. We will have nothing to do with choosing the consultants, companies that will carry out such projects... We don't want cash money from that fund going to our Treasury."

Any successor to Saleh will face multiple, overlapping regional conflicts including resurgent separatist sentiment in the south, where Islamist fighters have also seized chunks of territory and control large parts of the province of Abyan.

Yemen's political chaos has deepened a pre-existing humanitarian crisis, with about half a million displaced and one-third of children suffering from moderate or acute malnutrition, according to a recent government and U.N. survey.

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