Yemen opposition offer for talks rebuffed

Coalition proposes dialogue with vice- president on transition, but government source rejects offer as "ridiculous".

    Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra discusses the situation in Yemen

    A coalition of Yemeni opposition parties has offered to talk with the country's vice-president about a political transition, but a high-ranking government source says no dialogue can take place until president Ali Abdullah Saleh returns to Yemen.

    Sources from the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) told Al Jazeera on Monday they were willing to talk with Abdu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Yemen's acting leader, about a transition.

    Hadi was tasked with running the government after Saleh left for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia earlier this week.

    But a source close to Saleh dismissed the JMP's offer as "ridiculous," and said no political dialogue could take place until Saleh returned. "Saleh is still the president of Yemen," the source said.

    "The answer of the government was the following, that Saleh remains the ultimate constitutional authority of the government ... So basically, they are telling them 'sorry, we are not going to talk about it'," Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra said about the government's response.

    "[The opposition is] under tremendous pressure from the thousands of pro-democracy activists across the country to take a very agressive role and jump in, reinforcing a new agenda in Yemen. If they fail to do that, definitely, they will lose more support in Yemen," Ahelbarra added.

    Saleh was injured in an attack on his palace on Friday. He is believed to have undergone a surgery to remove shrapnel from his chest. He also reportedly suffers from burns over 40 per cent of his body.

    Hadi said on Monday that Saleh's health was improving and that he "would return to the homeland in the coming days", but medical sources said he would need at least two weeks to recover in Saudi Arabia.

    'An immediate transition'

    Saleh's son and several of his nephews remain in Yemen, and they control powerful branches of the military and intelligence services, giving Saleh a continued grip on power even in his absence.

    Hadi - typically a behind-the-scenes player in Yemeni politics - has kept a relatively low profile since Saleh's departure. It is unclear how much power he actually wields. He is still working from his office in the ministry of defence, while Saleh's son Ahmed has reportedly moved into the presidential palace.

    American and European leaders have called for Saleh to hand over power to a new leader.

    "We think an immediate transition is in the best interests of the Yemeni people," Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, said on Monday.

    For her part, Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, said she hoped Saleh would let his country "move on" while he sought medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.

    More than 450 people have been killed in the unrest shaking the nation of 23 million since late January.

    Fighting continues

    Meanwhile, a Saudi-negotiated truce was holding shakily in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, after two weeks of fighting between Saleh's forces and a powerful tribal group in which more than 200 people were killed.

    Fighting raged between Yemeni troops and suspected al-Qaeda gunmen at the gates of Zinjibar, the southern city which had earlier fallen under the group's control.

    Yemen's military said it had killed 30 of the group's fighters on Tuesday, including a local al-Qaeda leader.

    Taiz, Yemen's second largest city, was reportedly seized by armed dissidents, following clashes with troops loyal to Saleh, Sheikh Hammoud Saeed al-Mikhlafi, the head of the tribal council in Taiz told the AFP news agency.

    "I consider Taiz to have fallen under the control" of the dissidents, he said.

    However, according to Al Jazeera's sources, a senior opposition member in Taiz denied these reports, saying the presidential palace and governor building were still in the hands of forces loyal to President Saleh.

    He explained that security and army forces withdrew from major parts of Taiz on Monday, but that did not mean that pro-opposition tribal gunmen, and those who had defected, were controlling the city.

    Sporadic clashes continued across Yemen and at least six people were killed on Monday after government supporters opened fire on opposition fighters.

    Elsewhere, Saudi television reported that three border guards were killed by someone trying to sneak across the border from Yemen.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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