RIYADH and SANA'A // GCC officials last night urged the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to leave office and ensure a peaceful handover to a new government, even as reports emerged that dozens of protesters in Sana'a were shot in clashes with security forces.
As demonstrations were erupting across the country, the GCC appealed to Mr Saleh to proceed with the "transfer of his powers to the vice president", said the GCC chief Abdullatif al Zayani in reference to the nation's deputy, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.
The six-nation GCC also called for the formation of "a government of national unity led by the opposition", which would be responsible for "establishing a constitution and organising elections", Mr al Zayani said.
Meanwhile, in Sana'a yesterday, prior to the GCC meeting, there were reports that dozens of Yemenis had been shot as tens of thousands took to the streets in several cities to denounce government violence against protesters and demand the immediate departure of Mr Saleh.
Tens of thousands also gathered in several other cities yesterday to condemn violence against protesters in Taiz, Sana'a and Hodiedah.
The GCC statement urging Mr Saleh's departure followed a closed-door meeting in Riyadh that focused on the bloc's role in mediating the crisis in Yemen, which has already claimed at least 125 lives.
"This is very strong language from the GCC, and the fact that they actually have a plan means that Saleh is really boxed into a corner, but I would be very surprised if he accepts this," said Theodore Karasik, the director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
However, Mr Saleh’s refusal to move on was becoming untenable, Mr Karasik said. y:“It’s getting to the point where it’s threatening the rest of the Arabian Peninsula and something has to be done.
The GCC is getting very proactive on this issue and the pressure is going to rise until something happens.”In a statement released to the press after the talks, the GCC said Mr Saleh’s government and the opposition would meet in Saudi Arabia to discuss Yemen’s “unity, security and stability”.
The Gulf-sponsored meeting would be based on principles that included “the president announces the transfer of his powers to the vice president”, the statement said, adding that an opposition-led transitional government would prepare for constitutional reforms and new elections.
Upon hearing the news of the GCC’s stance, camped-out protesters in Sana’a yesterday shouted: “We reject any dialogue with the regime and want the trial of the mass killer”, referring to Mr Saleh. There was no immediate comment from the opposition parties or the youth groups. However, Bushra al Maktari, a protest leader in the city of Taiz, said: “We welcome any initiative that would preserve Yemeni blood.”
Ms al Maktari added that some hardline youth organisations had insisted that the president and his inner circle should be prosecuted, particularly after the recent bloodshed in Taiz, Sana’a and Hodiedah. He spoke a day after the Qatari prime minister, Hamad bin Jassem al Thani, said the six GCC member states “hope to reach a deal with the Yemeni president to step down”.
However, in a sign of either confusion or dissension within the nation’s top ranks, the Yemeni foreign minister Abu Bakr al Kurbi said on Friday that the government was still studying the Gulf’s proposals and that “any initiative aimed at finding a solution to the crisis in accord with the constitution of the Republic of Yemen is welcome”.
The protesters said in a statement on Saturday evening: “We call on the GCC and the international community to not conduct any political deal with the president that grants him any legal protection or immunity after the crimes he has committed.”
Dozens of protesters were injured when police and armed men in plainclothes opened fire with live ammunition and tear gas on thousands of protesters in Sana’a on Saturday evening. Abdulmalik al Yusufi, a doctor at a field clinic in the capital, said that 37 were wounded by live fire, stones and batons, while 1,200 more suffered from gas inhalation, which also affected residents near the protest site. Dr al Yusufi said that some injured protesters went missing after being whisked away by security vehicles.