Sunday, 13 June 2010

Yemen politician says next leader should be southerner

Source : Reuters, by Raissa Kasolowsky 14/06/2010

- Rising Yemeni opposition politician Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar, seen as a potential presidential successor, says he is not aiming for the top job and thinks the country's next leader should come from the south.

Electing a southerner to succeed President Ali Abdullah Saleh when his term ends in 2013 could go a long way towards calming rising secessionist sentiment there, said Ahmar who like the president hails from the north.

"Us Yemenis in the north have to show those in the south that we are in favour of unity. We need to leave them (southerners) the opportunity to lead Yemen," he told Reuters in an interview.

President Saleh, in over three decades at Yemen's helm, oversaw the unification of north and south Yemen in 1990 and survived a civil war four years later that was sparked by an attempt from southern leaders to break away.

His current term ends in 2013 and Ahmar, a business tycoon whose criticism of the government over the past year has made him increasingly popular in Yemen, is seen as a leading contender to succeed him.

But Ahmar cited his tribal ties to the country's ruler as a reason not to pursue the presidency, saying those links could dent people's faith in him.

"Suppose Ali Abdullah Saleh al-Ahmar has gone and Hamid Abdallah al-Ahmar comes. ... People won't believe there will be change unless someone else comes," Ahmar said.

Ahmar belongs to the same powerful tribal federation as Saleh and the two share the al-Ahmar name, although they are not directly related.

He did not definitively rule out serving in Yemen's top post, but said it was not his aim.


Secessionist sentiment in the south still simmers, with violence on the rise in recent months. But it is only one of many challenges in Yemen, which is also trying to cement a truce with northern Shi'ite rebels and quash a resurgent Yemen-based al Qaeda arm.

Yemen has been a Western security concern since a Yemen-based al Qaeda arm claimed responsibility for a failed December attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane.

Yemen's Western allies and Saudi Arabia fear a resurgent al Qaeda wing could exploit unrest to use Yemen as a base for destabilising attacks in the region and beyond. They want the government to resolve internal conflict and consolidate power.

Ahmar dismissed warnings that Yemen, next to top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, could descend into chaos like nearby Somalia if its political situation remained unresolved.

Like many in Yemen's opposition movement, he said he was sceptical an unprecedented charm offensive launched by Saleh to woo opponents would yield concrete concessions on political and social reforms. But he said dialogue should be given a chance.

Facing spiralling violence and a deepening recession, Saleh said in May that a new national dialogue could lead to a unity government, and agreed to include northern rebels and southern separatists in talks, a key opposition demand.

Ahmar, who belongs to his father's al-Islah party that leads an alliance of six opposition groups, said he would launch a peaceful movement against any attempt by Saleh to prolong his rule after his term ends.

"The president has failed to run Yemen. In my opinion he doesn't deserve to have his term extended," Ahmar said.

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