Yemen opposition accuses Saleh of 'stalling'

Activists and officials close to Ali Abdullah Saleh express doubt that the president intends to leave power.

    The main Shia opposition group announced it was establishing the al-Omma political party [Reuters]

    Thousands of anti-government demonstrators, demanding the release of political prisoners and the prosecution of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, have filled the streets of the capital Sanaa.

    "Our demands are building a state of Yemen, an end to corruption in government of Ali Saleh and his aides and bringing them to justice, dropping the immunity for Ali Saleh and his aides or immunity to be granted [to them] by any country," one protester at the demonstration told the Reuters news agency on Thursday.

    Another protester carried a poster reading: "The revolution will continue until all it goals are achieved. Freedom for detainees."

    Chanting slogans and carrying placards, the demonstrators were closely guarded by defected security personnel who secured the routes for them.

    Saleh bowed to months of protests and international pressure by agreeing in November to a deal that granted him immunity from prosecution over his violent crackdown on a popular uprising, but saw him hand over power.

    Shia opposition

    Since he handed over the reins to his deputy under a Gulf peace accord, a new government headed by an opposition
    leader has been formed. A presidential election is scheduled for February.

    But six weeks after the deal was signed, Saleh remains president, and suspicions are mounting that he is trying to wiggle out of the plan meant to bring his 33-year autocratic rule to an end.

    Meanwhile on Thursday, the main Shia opposition group in Yemen announced it was establishing a political party, the al-Omma, in move to secure a role in the political process ahead of upcoming elections.

    In an inaugural congress for the al-Omma party in Sanaa, the founders said the party would not be restricted to a particular sect or group.

    "This is a national project that seeks at first to achieve the independence of national decisions, and the building of the state of institutions that's independent and bases its decisions and attitudes only on the will of its people, and which is away from foreign dominance," said Mohamed Moftah, the new party's head of preparatory committee.

    Both opposition leaders and officials close to the president said on Thursday that they remained unconvinced that Saleh was serious about leaving power. They worried he would try to use the unstable country's continued unrest to keep his seat on the grounds that Yemen's active al-Qaeda branch will step up operations if he leaves.

    Al-Qaeda remains active in Yemen; military officials said four soldiers and six fighters were killed in new clashes on Thursday near the southern city of Zinjibar.

    Saleh 'stalling'

    "The president is basically not convinced that he has to leave power, so he will resist with all his remaining force," a ruling party figure in Saleh's last government who was close to the president told the Associated Press.

    Saleh changed his tune this week on his plans to travel to the United States. In late December, he said he would go to the US to help calm the turmoil in his country. Then on Saturday, he announced he would stay.

    On Wednesday, a leader in Saleh's ruling General People's Congress party said Saleh had decided to remain Yemen in response to concerns that his departure could be bad for Yemen and the ruling party.

    The opposition accused Saleh of stalling.

    The US said it it would hold Saleh accountable for transitioning power after the February elections, following his canceling of the planned trip.

    Hundreds of people have been killed since protests against Saleh's government began in January last year, inspired by the uprisings in other Arab states including Tunisia and Egypt.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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