|Fearing civil unrest, the US and Saudi Arabia have pressured President Saleh not to return to Yemen [Reuters]|
Yemeni opposition groups have formed a national council to increase pressure on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to relinquish power.
Salem Mohammed Bassindwa, a leader of the opposition movement, said on Wednesday that youth groups and political parties elected 143 council members to represent the people.
“This is a revolutionary council aimed at toppling the rule of the [Saleh] family and the remnants of this regime,” Bassindwa said, clarifying that it was “not an alternative to the government”.
Bassindwa said that the council members would elect a president and an executive body and form “popular committees” in Yemeni cities. The groups would be in charge of “protecting citizens’ properties and state institutions” at time of crisis and street clashes, he said.
Saleh blasted the opposition, saying they were made up of the “leftovers of Marxists, the Taliban and the imamate [Yemen’s ousted monarchist rulers]”.
Saleh, who has undergone treatment in Saudi Arabia for injuries caused by a bomb blast in June, said in a televised speech on Tuesday that he would be home “soon”.
The United States and his Saudi Arabian hosts have urged him to remain in Riyadh, fearing his return to Yemen could spark a civil war between loyalists and the opposition movement backed by armed tribesmen and army units that switched sides.
The position of the council on a US-backed power transfer deal is not yet clear. The deal, proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council, gives Saleh immunity from prosecution if he transfers power to his deputy, who would then call elections.
Saleh came close to signing several times but then backed away. While the formal political parties and the main tribal federation backed the deal, youth movements and protest leaders rejected immunity for Saleh.
Saleh’s promise to return to Yemen came as fierce clashes between tribesmen and Yemeni troops overnight left 23 tribesmen dead, according to a tribal source.
“Twenty-three of our fighters were killed in fierce overnight clashes with the Republican Guard,” said the source from the Bakil tribe, adding that the worst fighting was concentrated in the area of Sheheb Arhab, 40km outside the capital, Sanaa.
The trouble began last week after the elite Republican Guard, which is led by Saleh’s son Ahmed, installed a checkpoint that allegedly harassed residents of the area.
The source said troops chased tribesmen to their villages after a few skirmishes, adding that the Republican Guard and the army had recently deployed reinforcements in Arhab.
Tribal sources claimed that the army was planning a war against the Bakil tribe, Yemen’s largest confederation of smaller tribes.
But officials claimed that armed men belonging to the opposition were plotting to take control of a nearby army base and the Sanaa airport.
The Republican Guard has battled tribes in various regions of Yemen after several of the heavily armed tribes sided with protesters.