Monday, February 6, 2012

Yemeni Leader Faces Protests At The Ritz

By Hunter Walker

February 6, 2012

Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh faced off with protesters yesterday outside his hotel, the Ritz Carlton on Central Park South. Mr. Saleh came to the United States last month to seek medical treatment after signing a deal in November allowing him immunity from prosecution if he transferred power to his vice president in the wake of months of bloody protests against his regime.

Protesters gathered outside the Ritz yesterday afternoon and greeted Mr. Saleh with photos of some of the hundreds of people killed during the demonstrations against his administration that began during last year’s “Arab Spring.” Police fended off one man who attempted to “charge” Mr. Saleh. Another protester threw a shoe at the former head of state as he departed the hotel. The shoe-thrower was arrested for disorderly conduct.

Mr. Saleh responded to the protests by waving and blowing kisses. His motorcade eventually took him off to an undisclosed location. Mr. Saleh is being treated for injuries he suffered in a rocket attack during the protests preceding his decision to step down.

Mr. Saleh’s reign in Yemen lasted over three decades. Yemeni diplomats say he will return home after a new president is elected next month. Under the agreement that gave him immunity, Mr. Saleh remains Yemen’s “honorary president” until a new leader is sworn in.

Election preparations start in conflict-torn Yemen

By Mohammed Ghobari

SANAA | Mon Feb 6, 2012

(Reuters) - Yemen has begun a publicity campaign to get citizens to vote in the upcoming presidential election, officials said on Monday, part of a deal to ease President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office and pull the country back from the brink of civil war.

With Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi the only candidate in the February 21 vote, Yemeni officials fear that a low turnout will dent the legitimacy of the man expected to lead Yemen during a two-year interim period when crucial decisions, dealing with restructuring the armed forms and introducing constitutional reforms, are expected to be taken.

"Your vote protects Yemen," read a giant poster hung in the capital Sanaa, depicting a smiling woman in a pink headscarf as she places her ballot into a voting box.

Abdul Wahhab al-Qudsi, head of the electoral commission's external relations, said preparations for the vote were in full swing. "(Our) main committee has gone to different provinces and the subcommittee will go off this weekend," he told Reuters.

It will be the first time in 33 years that a candidate other than Saleh -- now in the United States for treatment of injuries sustained in an assassination attempt last year -- will head the impoverished Arab state, located along key oil shipping routes.

Yemen is trying to recover from months of mass anti-Saleh protests and factional fighting that have allowed al Qaeda's regional wing to seize swathes of south Yemen and Shi'ite Muslim Houthi rebels to carve out their own domain in the north.

The United States and top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, fearing that instability will allow al Qaeda to expand its base of operations in Yemen, are counting on elections to bring security back to the country and avert the threat of outright civil war.

Many Yemenis feel the same way. "We will vote in order to avoid war," Abdullah Mutlah said as he sold his customers qat -- a mild narcotic plant used widely across Yemen.


Others said they felt cheated by the election, regarding it as a waste of time and money.

"Why are there elections if there is no competition?" shopkeeper Saddam Abdullah said. "Why are millions of riyals being spent on elections whose results are already known?"

Despite all the preparations and costs, some Yemenis worry that the elections may not spawn a peaceful transition.

Analysts said that some of the governments that backed the transition accord worry that a national unity government, comprised of Saleh's People's Congress Party and the opposition's Joint Meeting Parties, would like a low turnout.

"Some of the countries that promoted the initiative feel that both sides want a weak win for Hadi so that they can blackmail him," Yemeni political analyst Ali Hasan said.

Yemeni officials said Washington would not tolerate attempts to upset Hadi's ascension to the presidency.

"The American administration told representatives of (both sides within the unity government) that... the U.N. Security Council will strongly confront any attempts to keep Hadi from being elected as the country's president," a Yemeni minister who attended a meeting with U.S. officials last week told Reuters.

Yemen Military Gets Friendly with Al Qaeda

February 6th, 2012

The highest military authority in Yemen has officially invited Al Qaeda militants for dialogue in an effort to end their control of the Abyan province.

Ali Saeed Obaid, the spokesperson of the Yemen Military Committee, which was formed as part of a power transfer deal in November, told The National that Yemen's new leadership is willing to seek solutions with Al Qaeda fighters and the militants fighting with them.

The committee, chaired by Vice President Abdurabu Mansur Hadi, is responsible for rebuilding the Yemeni military and is looking at all options to end national bloodshed.

Mr Obaid said the offer of dialogue would be in exchange for the militants laying down arms and participating in the democratic process.

"We are offering Al Qaeda members a chance to be involved in the changes that are taking place in Yemen today," he said. "We open our hands to them and ask them to lay [down] arms and reject the use of force."

In return, Mr Obaid said that Al Qaeda fighters must hand over all territories under its control to the military and evacuate all government posts.

The move, considered the first of its kind in the country's fight against the militants, will likely anger Western powers. Al Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula has been blamed for a number of attempted attacks on the United States.

Yemen is undergoing a historical transfer of power, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a long-time US ally, will step down after more than 33 years of rule.

The committee admits that Al Qaeda is in control of areas of Abyan and Shabwa provinces. Islamist militants seized control of Abyan last May after government forces evacuated nearly all of its bases and stations there.

The province was announced an Islamic emirate a week later, resulting in hundreds of fighters joining the AQAP lines.

Since then, hundreds of troops have been killed in daily clashes.

"We are killing one another, and in the end Yemen as a nation loses. Let's try giving other options a chance to succeed," Mr Obaid added.

There has not yet been any response from Al Qaeda, according to the military committee.

A senior defence ministry official told The National that negotiations are taking place between the government and Al Qaeda fighters in Abyan. The official said that the goal of the talks is to ease the tension in the province and bridge the gap of differences.

"Yemen can't take anymore destruction. If this is not solved soon, clashes will then spread to major cities throughout the country," the official said.

Last month, a committee formed by Mr Hadi, who is the only candidate in an election later this month to replace Mr Saleh, convinced Al Qaeda fighters in Radda, Al Baitha province, of evacuating the area two weeks after they took over.

The government now fears that clashes could soon erupt in major cities if Al Qaeda is not dealt with. Attacks during the last year have spread to nine provinces across the country, the military committee confirmed.

Despite the prospect of talks, government officials told The National last week that Yemen would by relying increasingly on US drone strikes to target Islamist militants, who they fear could try to take further territory in the run-up to the election.

Experts are hoping however that Mr Hadi can use his ancestral links to Abyan to convince the fighters there to negotiate.

"Hadi is wise and knows that a continuation of war in Abyan is not in favour of the country. Negotiating with Al Qaeda is not a weakness but a signal that all should work in favour of Yemen," said Abdul Salam Mohammed, director of the Sanaa based Abaad Strategic Center.

Source: the National