Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Head of new Yemen centrist party backs immunity for Saleh

Source : Reuters, By Cynthia Johnston


DUBAI — Yemen should grant immunity from prosecution to President Ali Abdullah Saleh as part of a transfer of power deal to quickly end the country's political standoff, the head of a new centrist party said on Wednesday.

But Mohammed Abu Lahoum, who leads the Justice and Development Bloc formed this week by former members of the ruling party, said while he supported reconciliation, others who had committed "bloody acts" should still be brought to justice.

"If he (Saleh) needs any kind of immunity let us give him the immunity he needs. Giving immunity is better than seeing bloodshed being spilled on the streets," Abu Lahoum told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"The sooner he moves, the easier it is to have immunity. The longer he stays, the more violence we will see... I am all the way with immunity if he is to leave immediately."

Yemen's allies fear a prolonged standoff could spark clashes between rival military units in Sanaa and elsewhere in the mountainous country where Saleh's control is already tenuous, creating chaos that could benefit an active al Qaeda wing.

Both Western and Gulf Arab allies have tried, without success so far, to broker a resolution involving a transition of power from Saleh, who has led the Arabian Peninsula state for 32 years. He says he wants a handover, but only to "safe hands."

Talks have hit a stumbling block over exactly when the president, in the face of three months of protests demanding he quit, would step down. Saleh and his supporters have resisted an immediate handover that the opposition demands.

.Gulf states had suggested a talks framework that appeared to offer Saleh immunity, which some in the opposition said would not be an obstacle to a deal although young street protesters have demanded he be put on trial over a bloody crackdown.

"Let's have forgiveness as the vehicle that will move this revolution to the next phase," Abu Lahoum said. "But if there are those that were (involved) in bloody acts, probably these people should be put into court or justice."


He said he believed the uprising was now in an end-stage and would be successful and he hoped it would also be peaceful.

"We are very close. Very very close. It started as a youth revolution but it looks like right now everybody is behind it," said Abu Lahoum, whose party includes former ministers of transport, tourism and human rights.

After initially offering to leave after his current term ends in 2013, Saleh said he would step down after holding elections, possibly this year. But his concessions have not stopped a stream of desertions by former supporters.

In addition to three ministers, Abu Lahoum's party includes a number of lawmakers from the ruling party. He said the party would take a centrist position that would differ from the current opposition coalition, whose leading members are Islamist and leftist parties.

Abu Lahoum suggested it would be hard for the ruling party to survive unless it quickly adapts and that some ruling party members who tried to reform the party from within before striking out on their own had found that difficult.

"We did try," he said.

"But then again one has to be realistic. The ruling party, especially in countries where they are the defining factor, they are such huge and heavy bodies that you cannot really move them. They would not adapt to change."

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