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Yemen's opposition shows signs of split

SANAA // Concerns about political division within Yemen's main opposition party were revealed last week after two groups met separately with officials from the ruling General Congress Party.

Meetings were held by the Haq and Nasserite parties, two smaller parties that comprise the Joint Opposition Parties (JMP) coalition. Observers say the smaller parties are ensuring they will not be left out if an agreement for the transfer of power from President Ali Adullah Saleh is reached in the coming weeks or months.

Hasan Zaid, the secretary general of the Haq party, confirmed there has been sessions with the ruling party officials. Nasserite party officials held their own closed door meetings, but no further details were available.

It was the first public sign of division within the JMP since the uprising against Mr Saleh began in March.

Mr Zaid said he expects there will be more meetings.

"The Haq party is keeping all options on the table and will be reviewing the political stances of the JMP over the next two weeks," he said.

In response, the JMP threatened to form a transitional governing council if the international community - Saudi Arabia and United States in particular - cannot convince the government to transfer power to Vice President Abdurabu Hadi.

Mr Hadi, under Yemen's constitution, is to be in charge of the country while Mr Saleh has been in Saudi Arabia receiving medical treatment for wounds received in an attack his palace mosque in early June. Reports, however, say Mr Hadi's power has been challenged by Mr Saleh's relatives who are in charge of many of the country's security forces.

"We informed the US ambassador that if no solution is reached by Wednesday, the opposition will be forced to accept the demands of the revolution youth and support the transitional council that they will form," said Mohammed Qahtan, the spokesman for the opposition JMP.

But that decision was not unanimous within the opposition group. Three of the six parties within the JMP later said they did not agree with the decision. One official said that a transitional council, made up only of the JMP coalition and not representative of all opposition political factions in Yemen , would lose its credibility in the international community and cause more tension in the Yemeni political arena.

"Not one country has welcomed that the opposition form the transitional government. If it is not welcomed, who will we be dealing with?," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The JMP also turned to the pro-democracy youth, who are leading the push for a regime change, urging them to continue standing strong.

"The opposition is counting on the youth for change, so do continue marching until the ruling family leaves power," said Mohammed Saadi, the deputy secretary general of the Islamist Islah party, in a speech Thursday at Sanaa's Change Square.

The Revolution Youth Council, one of the most influential protest movements in Yemen, called on Friday for security forces loyal to the revolution to arrest ruling family officials, including President Saleh's son and nephews.

The council said Thursday's televised appearance of Mr Saleh, from Riyadh where he is recovering, raised their hopes that he will be well enough to be put on trial for attacks against peaceful pro-democracy protesters.

"One of the revolution demands is that Saleh is taken to court for the killing of protesters," the statement said. Youth groups have for months staged peaceful demonstrations in Sanaa and across much of the country to demand Mr Saleh's ouster and political reforms.

The president's appearance, the first time he has been seen in public since he left the country more than a month ago, has also boosted the confidence of the ruling party.

"The media fabricates lies for the interest of foreign agendas in an effort to weaken the president and his rule. Saleh will lead until the end of his presidential term in 2013," said Ahmed Soufi, an advisor to the president.

Mohammed Afandi, an economics professor at Sanaa University, said that politicians are not acting fast enough to save the country. He said that nearly all government services, including electricity, health care and social services, have ground to a halt during the turmoil.

"The country is falling apart and 25 million will continue to suffer as Yemen inches closer towards seeing a hunger crisis," said Mr Afandi.

Dialogue between the government and the opposition parties ended when the government announced that Mr Saleh would not be step down immediately, as protesters have demanded, even if a negotiated proposal to transfer power is reached.

Although no talks between the ruling party and the opposition have taken place in nearly a month, the Yemeni government has said Mr Saleh should have at least another six months to rule after he returns to Yemen. Since March, the president had agreed to transfer power several times, only to step back at the last moment.

"Saleh has the power of the government, the military, millions of supporters and the international community. This is why Saleh will get his demands met," said Abdu Ganadi, the spokesman for the Yemeni government.


* With additional reporting by the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse

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