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Middle East
Yemen activists vow to keep pressure on Saleh
Protesters concerned that Gulf-brokered deal's 30-day period until Saleh quits, allows him time to "change his mind".
Last Modified: 24 Apr 2011 11:19

Protesters in Yemen have reiterated their call for the immediate resignation of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country's president, after his ruling party accepted a Gulf state-brokered plan for him to quit in 30 days.

Demonstrators expressed concern on Sunday that the plan could be a manoeuvre between the president and official opposition parties to share power.

The handover plan was drawn up by the Gulf Cooperation Council and endorsed by the official opposition coalition known as the Joint Meeting Parties.

The GCC plan would see Saleh submit his resignation to parliament within 30 days, with a presidential vote to be held within two month.

He would be granted immunity from prosecution for himself, family and aides.

Tariq Shami, a presidential aide, told Al Jazeera on Saturday that the president had accepted in principle the proposal from the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) that would see him step down.

"The president has agreed and accepted the initiative of the GCC," he said.

"The transition of power in Yemen will take some time. It needs an agreement between the national powers and the opposition at the same time. This thing will happen within 60 days if we have an agreement."

The opposition coalition said on Saturday it had agreed to the main elements of the plan, although opposition leaders had rejected a proposal to join a national unity government.

Mohammed Qahtan, an opposition spokesman, told Al Jazeera that a basis of trust is lacking for the opposition to join a national unity government, but that the opposition would start a conversation regardless.

"The vice-president will take over for a certain period and then we will see what happens," he said.

'Resign or flee'

But Ibrahim al-Ba'adani, an opposition activist in the city of Ibb, said he was "surprised" that the formal opposition had accepted the principle of immunity for Saleh.

"We will continue sit-ins until the president goes," he said.

In the square in Sanaa where protesters have camped out for weeks, protesters shouted: "No negotiation, no dialogue - resign or flee".

"There is still one month until the president resigns and we expect him at any moment to change his mind," said activist Mohammed Sharafi.

"We will not leave ... until Saleh goes and we achieve our goals of setting up a modern, federal state."

Scores of demonstrators demanding Saleh's overthrow have been killed in months of unrest inspired by the wave of rebellion across North Africa and the Middle East that brought down the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.

"There is a consensus on rejecting the initiative" proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council, said Abdulmalik al-Yusufi, a leading activist at a sit-in demonstration in Sanaa's University Square.

"Down with the regime" and "Down with all parties," chanted the protesters, camping out in the square, dubbed Change Square.

"The Gulf initiative addresses the problem as if it was a political crisis between two parties... We have taken to the streets in a revolution that is demanding a comprehensive change," Yusufi said.

Ahmed al-Wafi, another leading activist in Taez, Yemen's second largest city and host to ongoing mass protests, also dismissed the latest statement by the GPC as an attempt to "buy time."

"The youth will only accept an immediate departure of Saleh. They are not concerned by any negotiations," he said, insisting that the parliamentary opposition will have to "follow the street stance."

'Civil war'

Saleh, who has ruled the country for more than three decades, has been under pressure to step down ever since anti-government protests began several weeks ago.

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On Saturday, the president accused the opposition of dragging the country into a civil war, as Yemenis boarded up their shops and businesses across the country in protest against his rule.

In a speech in Sanaa, the capital, he called on Yemen's young people to form a political party according to
the constitution and said the Arab state would not accept any tutelage "whatsoever", without giving further details.

"They [the opposition] want to drag the area to civil war and we refuse to be dragged to civil war," Saleh said.

"Security, safety and stability are in Yemen's interests and the interests of the region."

Yemen, with 23 million people, is one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, and demonstrators accuse Saleh of corruption and mismanagement during his decades in power.

In recent years he has positioned himself as an ally of the United States against al Qaeda, while also battling Shia rebels in the north of the country and separatists in the south.

However, after years of backing Saleh, the United States had begun pressing him to negotiate to hand over power.

"We encourage all parties to move swiftly to implement the terms of the agreement so that the Yemeni people can soon realise the security, unity and prosperity that they have so courageously sought and so richly deserve," Jay Carney, White House spokesman, said in a statement.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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