Source: Reuters, 26/04/2011
By Mohamed Sudam and Mohammed Ghobari
SANAA - The time and venue for the signing of a Gulf Arab deal that would see Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh finally resign could be announced by a Gulf envoy in the coming days, an opposition official said on Tuesday. Mohammed Basindwa told Reuters the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Abdullatif al-Zayani, is expected to visit Sanaa within a few days to finalize a power transfer plan that requires Saleh to step down 30 days after signing the deal.
"We expect an arrangement and signing of a deal to be completed -- the sooner the better," he said.
Asked if the GCC-brokered agreement could be signed within the next few days, he said, "Hopefully. It's possible."
An opposition coalition of Islamists, leftists and Arab nationalists removed a key obstacle to implementing the deal when they agreed on Monday to participate in a transitional national unity government, reversing their initial refusal.
Yemen's Western and Gulf Arab allies have tried for weeks to mediate a solution to a three-month crisis in which protesters, inspired by the toppling of leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, have taken to the street demanding an end to Saleh's 32-year rule.
Washington and neighboring oil giant Saudi Arabia fear that a descent into further chaos or bloodshed in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state, long on the brink of collapse, would offer more room for al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing to operate in the country. It has used Yemen as a launchpad for attempted attacks on U.S. and Saudi targets in the last two years.
In the wake of daily mass protests and the defection of many army, tribal and political leaders, Saleh agreed in principle to the proposal by GCC foreign ministers to resign in exchange for immunity from prosecution for himself, his family and aides.
Opposition officials told Reuters they finally agreed to the plan on Monday after receiving assurances from U.S. diplomats in Sanaa that the 69-year-old leader would indeed step down in a month, once the deal is signed.
The opposition coalition originally had concerns that Saleh, a shrewd political survivor, could foil the plan if parliament did not accept his resignation -- it is currently packed with members of his ruling party.
Protesters vowed to continue marches until the resignation and trial of Saleh, who has backed out of previous promises in past years not to run for president.
They also worry that some opposition parties, many of them former allies of Saleh, are only cooperating in order to gain a greater share of power and not to ensure real change.
"This agreement disappoints our hopes. The president hasn't left power. He got what he wanted -- he and his supporters will leave without being tried for the killing of protesters and the money they've embezzled," said Hamdan Zayed in Sanaa, where thousands of protesters have been camped out for weeks.
"He has achieved victory over the opposition, but as for us, we'll continue our revolution. We won't leave the streets because of this embarrassing agreement."
At least 125 protesters have been killed as unrest swept Yemen, where many of the 23 million population are frustrated by rampant corruption and mismanagement. Some 40 percent live on $2 a day or less, and one-third face chronic hunger.
The Gulf transition deal provides for Saleh to appoint a prime minister from the opposition coalition, with presidential elections two months after his resignation.
Experts worry that the one-month window offers time for those disappointed with the deal, such as military leaders or tribesmen who could lose power, to become potential saboteurs.
They could be tempted to try to seize power by sparking clashes and causing further unrest in the country, which sits on a major shipping lane where 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.