Yemeni president 'resists' calls to step down

Ali Abdullah Saleh ignores GCC efforts to broker his exit and says he will relinquish power only through elections.

    Yemen's embattled president has said he would "resist" calls to resign and would abide by the constitution in any transfer of power, Yemen's state news agency Saba reported.

    Addressing a women's group in Sanaa, the capital, on Wednesday, president Ali Abdullah Saleh reiterated he would relinquish power only through elections.

    "We will continue to resist (...) undaunted and committed to constitutional legitimacy, while rejecting the plots and coups," Saba quoted Saleh as saying.

    "Let those who want to attain power rely on the ballot box. Change can only come about through elections and within the framework of constitutional legitimacy," Saleh, whose term runs until 2013, said.

    Saleh's statement comes after members of the UN Security Council failed to come up with a joint statement on Yemen after adding the country's crisis to their agenda for the first time.

    UN call for restraint

    Members of the UN Security Council called for restraint and political dialogue in Yemen as the 15-nation body discussed the violence there for the first time on Tuesday, diplomats said.

    But the closed-door meeting, requested by Germany, failed to agree on a public statement on Yemen, where anti-government protests are in their third month, because some envoys wanted to consult their capitals, the diplomats said.

    "We expressed concern about the situation in Yemen, which is deteriorating. We called for restraint and we appealed to the parties to enter into a dialogue," German Ambassador Peter Wittig told reporters after the meeting.

    "Most of us in the council expressed explicitly support for the mediation efforts of the Gulf Cooperation Council."

    US Ambassador Susan Rice told journalists that "many delegations, including our own, stressed the importance of an end to violence and a political process that results swiftly in a credible transition."

    Germany and Lebanon urged the council to issue a statement, but some envoys disagreed, diplomats said. Asked who had done so, one Western diplomat said "the usual suspects" -- an apparent reference to Russia and China, often reluctant to take action that could be seen as intruding in a country's affairs.

    A statement could be issued later this week when instructions are received from governments, diplomats said.

    GCC initiative

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    Foreign ministers of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) held talks in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday with representatives of Saleh's regime as part of efforts to hammer out a deal under which the veteran president would step down.

    Sources told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the deal was close to being agreed on, and that an envoy was shortly to be sent to Yemen.

    "We're told that the UK and the US are behind this deal," Kristen Saloomey, Al Jazeera's correspondent at the United Nations in New York, said.

    A brief, vague statement issued afterwards referred to the talks as "constructive," vowing to "exert more effort to preserve security, stability and the unity of the Yemeni state."

    "During the meeting both sides exchanged opinions over the Gulf initiative," it said.

    Ahmed bin Dagher, the spokesman of the Yemeni delegation, told reporters any solution should not violate the constitution.

    "We adhere to the constitution which we cannot breach," he said, signalling that Saleh could serve out his term - a position stated previously by his ruling party, the General People's Congress.

    Saba quoted him as saying that the Abu Dhabi talks "focused on ways to preserve the stability of Yemen while at the same time assuring a peaceful transfer of power".

    The meeting followed talks in Riyadh on Sunday between foreign ministers of Yemen's oil-rich Gulf neighbours and representatives of the parliamentary opposition, who are adamant Saleh should step down immediately.

    Protesters killed

    Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, has faced protests since late January calling for his departure that have cost more than 130 lives.

    Munir al Mawri, a Yemeni American journalist, told Al Jazeera that "Saleh will practically be unable to rule Yemen without the support of the GCC".

    "He can try to buy time but he knows very well that he is losing and that he should leave as soon as possible," al Mawri said.

    "He is concerned about the consequences after he leaves. He knows how many crimes he has committed in his country, especially after killing so many protesters.  By asking for guarantees for not being prosecuted he is admitting that he committed crimes."

    Youth groups called for nationwide marches by millions of people in protest at the killing of protesters on Tuesday, stressing their rejection of any deal that excludes Saleh's immediate departure.

    Confrontations raged on between security forces and anti-Saleh protesters, with medics and witnesses reporting that eight people were shot dead since Tuesday, including a passer-by and a policeman.

    One protester was killed when a gunman on a motorbike opened fire early on Wednesday at demonstrators staging a sit-in at Al-Nasr Square in the western Red Sea city of Hudaydah.

    The assailant managed to escape after also wounding about eight other protesters, most of whom had been asleep.

    Also on Wednesday, a policeman was shot dead during clashes between police and protesters in the main southern port city of Aden, while five demonstrators were shot dead in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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