Yemeni opposition calls for president to leave office


THE POLITICAL future of Yemen’s beleaguered president Ali Abdullah Saleh hung in the balance yesterday following a proposal for his early exit from power, put forward by opposition parties.

As protests continued to spread, the opposition coalition, the Joint Meeting Parties, presented a five-point plan to Mr Saleh and his ruling General People’s Congress party late on Wednesday, a day after announcing its support for street demonstrations calling for the president to step down.

The most crucial part of the plan included an end to Mr Saleh’s 32-year presidency by the end of the year, providing the president with his best and perhaps only option to leave office gracefully.

The proposals also included previous demands on decentralisation, electoral reform, constitutional changes and the removal of Mr Saleh’s relatives from leadership positions in the army and security forces. However the path of dialogue remained unclear among mixed messages from both sides.

“The plan proposed to the ruling party was favourably received,” a government spokesman on Wednesday night, while the opposition sent out conflicting reports.

In an initial statement the JMP said: “The president agreed to determine the series of steps that he will take to leave power with no inheritance during a period of time that will not extend beyond this year.”

However JMP spokesman Mohammed Al-Qubati yesterday contradicted the statement, saying: “We will not have any dialogue with the ruling party. Our only demand is that this regime leaves and then we can talk about dialogue.”

Additional reports from the JMP said the president “rejected the step-down proposal”.

The political confusion highlighted the fractured nature of the JMP – a disunited mismatch of six parties – and the resulting complicated nature of any negotiations.

In contrast, anti-government protesters continued in their single-minded call for the immediate resignation of Mr Saleh. Activists maintain they are non-partisan and have rejected both political sides while remaining steadfast in their chants of “erhal, erhal” (“leave, leave”).

“We want him to leave now,” said protest co-ordinator Adel al- Surabi outside Sana’a University.

“The JMP does not represent us and even if he [Saleh] says he will leave by the end of the year, we don’t believe him. He cannot be trusted, he’s shown that,” he said.

Demonstrations have become increasingly prevalent this week, with anti-government protests spreading to at least 19 of Yemen’s 21 provinces.

Violence has also continued. Two protesters were shot dead in the southern town of Sadr in Lahij province on Wednesday in clashes with security forces, while 20 people were left injured in Hodeidah, to the west of the capital.

Camping out in tents, the increasingly diverse crowd of at least 1,000 have permanently inhabited the streets around the capital’s main university for nearly two weeks, with similar scenes in the city of Taiz, 130 miles south of Sana’a.

On the eve of another day of large protests, expected across the gulf nation for traditional Friday prayers, a response from the ruling General People’s Congress party was expected.

An unnamed official told Reuters news agency: “The details are being discussed by the two sides right now and we’ll announce a final position at a later time,” without specifying when.