Middle East
Saleh calls for early Yemen elections
Yemeni leader's call for polls comes a day after pledging again to sign GCC-sponsored deal to end his decades-long rule.
Last Modified: 20 May 2011 11:52

Yemen's president has called for early presidential elections, a day after making yet another promise to sign a deal that would end his decades-long rule.

Speaking to supporters after Friday prayers in the capital, Sanaa, Ali Abdullah Saleh said that he wanted to hold an early election to end the country's political crisis.

"We call for an early presidential election in a democratic way, in order to avoid bloodshed," Saleh told thousands of supporters.

Saleh also appeared to lay the groundwork for his followers to prepare to relinquish some control over government.
"Your General People's Congress will remain both in power and out of power and ... will educate them [the opposition] how to be a responsible opposition. No cutting roads, no cutting tongues, no treachery," he said.

It is unclear whether such an election would occur under a deal mediated by the Gulf Co-operation Council, or if Saleh was making an alternative proposal.

The GCC brings together six Gulf states - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The opposition has accused the embattled leader of stalling after he previously rejected the agreement on two occasions.

Yemen continues to reel from three months of street protests that have seen tens of thousands of people massing in Sanaa, the focal point of demonstrations demanding the president's ouster.

Taiz and the port city of Aden have also been scenes of mass protests.

Refusal to sign

Saleh's call for elections came after Ahmed al-Sufi, his spokesman, said on Thursday that he was ready to sign the agreement on Sunday for the transfer of power.

The president had a day earlier backed out of the agreement that would allow for him to leave power in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

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The refusal prompted Abdul-Latif al-Zayyani, the GCC's chief, to leave the country, although Al-Sufi said he would return to attend the newly scheduled signing on Sunday.

According to the spokesman, Saleh had changed his mind due to the application of strong diplomatic pressure from Gulf and other countries.

Saleh's previous pullback from promises to sign the deal has been on matters of constitutional technicality.

On Wednesday, he said he was not willing to accept Mohammed Basindwa, an opposition figure tipped as a possible interim prime minister, as a signatory to the deal, on the grounds that Basindwa, an independent, was not a member of a "legally recognised [party]" in parliament.

The GCC did not confirm that any deal would be signed on Sunday, only saying that its foreign ministers would be meeting on that day in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, to discuss the situation. Al-Zayyani would be attending that meeting, it said.

The Yemeni opposition has dismissed Saleh's promise to sign as a way of delaying his exit.

'We're not afraid'

"If the president decides to sign on Sunday, nothing will stop him," opposition spokesman Mohammed al-Sabri said. "We are sure that the president is playing games with time."

Al-Sabri said the GCC must take a clear position on whether or not Saleh was in favour of the decision.

"They cannot go along with the president's strategies to gain more time," he said.

Protests, meanwhile, continued on Friday in Sanaa with demonstrators vowing not to give up.

"We will continue to protest, despite our awareness that we could be killed or arrested. We are not afraid," said activist Tawakul Karman.

A violent crackdown on the protests by government forces has reportedly killed more than 150 people.

Yemen's central government was already weak before the protests began, dealing with a rebellion in the north, a secessionist movement in the south and the presence of al-Qaeda fighters in its weakly governed provinces.

The United States, which considers Yemen a key ally in fighting al-Qaeda, appears to have backed away from supporting Saleh, with Barack Obama, the president, calling on him to stand down.

In a speech regarding US policy in the Arab world on Thursday, Obama referred directly to the situation in Yemen, saying: "President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power.'' 

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