Saturday, 5 March 2011

Yemen's Leader Rejects Opposition Plan

Source: Wall Street Journal

By:OLIVER HOLMES 05\03\2011

After days of delay, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh officially rejected a proposal that he step down this year and reiterated that he would remain in power until his term ends in 2013.

"The peaceful and smooth transition of power is not carried out through chaos but through the will of the people expressed through elections," a statement from the presidential office Saturday said. Elections are due in Yemen in September 2013.

On Wednesday, leading members of Yemen's fragmented political opposition presented Mr. Saleh with a five-point plan that would allow the president to leave power by the end of this year, after tens of thousands of anti-Saleh protesters demanded Tuesday that the president leave immediately.

The plan also stated that Yemenis should be allowed to protest peacefully without fear of violence, that a committee should be formed to investigate attacks against protesters, and that the families of all protesters killed or injured should be compensated by the state.

Finally, all political parties in Yemen would discuss the best means to transfer power democratically.

Early Thursday, officials close to the president said there had been an "initial acceptance" of the plan, but later clarified that the proposal was only "favorably received."

Creating further confusion, the Joint Meeting Parties, or JMP, a loose coalition of opposition groups from Islamic political parties to Socialists, said Thursday that the president had agreed to a "series of steps that (Mr. Saleh) will take to leave power...during a period of time that will not extend beyond this year."

But speculation of acceptance by Mr. Saleh was quashed Saturday. "The five points proposed by the opposition coalition are mysterious and unclear," the statement from the president's office said. "The constitution is the main reference and it is unacceptable that any party go against" the constitution.

Separately, the British Embassy in the capital of San'a sent an SMS text message to all Britons in Yemen advising them to leave the country.

"We are now advising against all travel to Yemen and advising all British nationals currently in Yemen to leave by commercial means unless you have a pressing need to remain," the text message from an embassy spokesman read.

With the most active wing of al Qaeda operating in the country, an on-again, off-again civil war in the north and a violent secessionist movement in the south, there have been numerous travel warnings from the British and American embassies.

Saturday's advice is almost certainly related to the continuing violent demonstrations in the country, focused in major cities.

Twenty seven people have died in recent protests, according to Amnesty International.
Antiregime protests began in Yemen in mid-January, when people took to the streets in solidarity with a popular revolt in Tunisia.

Over the past few weeks the numbers of antiregime protesters have grown from hundreds to tens of thousands across the country and they are now calling for the ousting of Mr. Saleh, who has ruled for over three decades.

On Friday, Yemeni soldiers fired rockets on protesters in the restive northern province of Amran, killing three people and injuring seven others, a Shia rebel spokesman said.

Anti-Saleh protesters in north Yemen have been joined by Shia Houthi rebels, who have been fighting a civil war against the San'a government for six years.

A government official told The Wall Street Journal that the fighting began as protesters were carrying weapons and tried to pass a military checkpoint.

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