SANAA // Yemen's interim prime minister, Mohammed Salem Basindwah, visited Saudi Arabia yesterday as part of a tour of Gulf countries to mobilise political and economic support for the country's transitional government.
"We have a big deficit in the budget and we have our own commitments," he said. "We have no doubt that our brothers in the Gulf will not slacken in supporting us at this tremendously difficult time. The government and the people are counting much on the outcome of this visit."
Mr Basindwah, who became the prime minister following a deal that calls for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down in exchange for immunity from prosecution, said he would discuss with the Saudi officials a plan to set up a fund to support development.
"We do not want any single rial from this fund to go to the state treasury and we do not want the money of the fund to go to the pockets of corrupt people. We will present them our plans for projects and they will handle the implementation," Mr Basindwah said.
Mr Basindwah will also visit Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar during his week-long tour. Government officials said a visit to the UAE may happen at the end of the month.
Nearly 12 months of unrest have left Yemen's economy on the brink of collapse. The International Monetary Fund put the 2011 budget deficit at more than US$4 billion (Dh14.6bn). Hisham Sharaf, former industry and trade minister, said in November that the political turmoil had cost the economy more than $8bn. Mr Basindwah said the unrest has left about 1.5 million people unemployed.
The unity government was formed in December following the signing of the transition agreement by Mr Saleh in Riyadh in November after he had backed out of the deal three times. Mr Saleh agreed to step down after 33 years in power in exchange for immunity from prosecution for him and his circle.
A presidential vote is scheduled for February 21 in which the interim leader and vice president, Abdurabu Mansur Hadi, will be the only candidate to serve as president during a two-year transition period.
Mr Basindwah said Mr Hadi was facing a lot of problems but that he "is very keen to run things quietly and that power is transferred peacefully and smoothly. He has been handling things with wisdom and reasoning".
Mr Saleh said last week said he would stay in Yemen, reversing a pledge to travel to the United States to seek medical treatment. But the prime minister said yesterday that Mr Saleh's visit to the US is "100 per cent imminent."
Mr Basindwah said Mr Saleh, whose family members are still in charge of more powerful sections of the military, "remains the primary danger to the transition. This danger will vanish after February 21. The people will feel comfortable only after this danger is gone".
Protests continued yesterday as thousands of people rallied in the capital's Change Square to demand that Mr Saleh and his relatives face trial for corruption and the killings of more than 1,140 people since the uprising against Mr Saleh's rule began last January. The unity government passed on Sunday the draft law on the immunity deal, which requires the parliament endorsement to take effect.
Mr Basindwah defended the immunity provision, however, yesterday
"We have accepted it because there was no other option but civil war and fighting. Our country cannot tolerate any confrontation; our economy is on the brink and our treasury is empty. The deal achieves a partial change but it will lead by the end of the day to the overall change we are all looking forward to having," he said.
* With additional reporting from Agence France-Presse