SANA'A // Yemen's state security prosecution yesterday extended the arrest of an opposition leader by seven days for his alleged involvement in a plot to sabotage the recent Gulf Cup football tournament.
Mohammed Ghalib, a member of the opposition Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), was arrested on Sunday following allegations that he offered US$50,000 (Dh183,500) to southern separatists to carry out "acts of sabotage" during the tournament held in the southern part of the country during November and December.
The state-owned Saba news agency said Mr Ghalib had been brought in for questioning following statements made by Taher Tammah,a leading member of the separatist Southern Movement who is currently under arrest, accused by the government of calling for the division of the country and for carrying out acts of sabotage in the south.
Mr Tammah reportedlysaid that his group were offered $50,000 by the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), an opposition coalition of six parties including the YSP, through Mr Ghalib to sabotage the Gulf Cup.
The tournament, won by Kuwait earlier this month, was held without any security incidents.
Mr Ghalib has denied the charges, describing them as politically motivated and linked to his denial of a statement made recently by Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, that YSP had backed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
"I have told my interrogators to try to expertly stage their charges because I have nothing to do with violence and I do not believe in it. I announced my support for the Gulf Cup tournament before it started," Mr Ghalib reportedly told opposition MPs visiting him in prison yesterday, according to the al Sahwa opposition website.
"My arrest and detention has to do with my rejection of the accusation of the authorities that the socialist party backed the Iraqi war on Kuwait. It has nothing to do with the allegations of supporting the southern movement for I do not believe in violence."
The YSP said that the government was playing "with fire" by arresting Mr Ghalib. The JMP said in a statement such actions "would lead to further violence and unrest" in a country that is faced with a separatist uprising in the south, a Shiite insurgency in the north, and al Qa'eda militants.
The Yemeni interior ministry warned in a statement issued on Sunday that all JMP leaders would be questioned if the interrogation of Mr Ghalib links them to attempts to sabotage the Gulf Cup.
"This is ridiculous for the authorities to arrest political activists on the basis of a statement by a witness they consider an outlaw and [who] is wanted on criminal charges. They are targeting the JMP and Ghalib for their political views," said Aidarous al Naqeeb, the head of the YSP caucus in parliament.
Mr Ghalib's arrest comes amid increasing tension between the government and the opposition following a vote by Mr Saleh's ruling General People's Congress (GPC) on the country's electoral law and the formation of an electoral commission.
The opposition said that, by approving the amendment to the electoral law on December 11, the ruling party violated a 2009 accord on political reforms.
The JMP had already threatened to boycott parliamentary elections, due to be held in 2011, and called for protests against the GPC's plan to hold the poll without completing the promised dialogue on political and electoral reforms.
While the JMP and independent legislators announced on Saturday they would continue their boycott of parliamentary sessions and expand their protests "against the ruling party's violations of the state constitution", the GPC had said it would move ahead with elections in April to avoid a constitutional vacuum.
Mr Saleh meanwhile reiterated on Sunday his call for the JMP to take part in elections and called on foreign organisations to monitor the process.
"[We do not wish to take part in] an election in which the regime wants to renew its stay in power.
"Our next battle in the opposition is the defence of the people's rights, including their right in a free and fair election that would lead to change," said Mohammed al Sabri, a leading JMP politician.