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Yemen opposition in Riyadh for crisis talks

:Hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied in Yemen¿s major cities demanding the removal of Ali Abdullah Saleh as president and denouncing his criticism of women for taking part in anti-regime rallies.

SANA'A // GCC foreign ministers met Yemen's opposition in Riyadh yesterday to seek an end to months-long turmoil that erupted again yesterday in violent clashes.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied in Yemen's major cities demanding the removal of Ali Abdullah Saleh as president and denouncing his criticism of women for taking part in anti-regime rallies.

At least eight protesters were wounded by police bullets in Sana'a and 48 were injured in the city of Damar when police and armed government supporters beat back protesters with live fire, tear gas and batons.

More than 100,000 took to the streets in Taiz, a hotbed of protests, and there were large demonstrations in the port of Aden and other cities.

Abdel-Malek al Youssefi, an activist and organiser with the youth movement, said the latest protest wave could well be "the last nail in Saleh's coffin".

More than 125 protesters have been killed since February 11.

To seek a path out of the crisis, Yemen's opposition leaders travelled to Saudi Arabia to present their demands before GCC-brokered talks on the departure of Mr Saleh. The opposition and its allies will explain to the GCC leaders the situation in Yemen and the people's adamant position that the departure of the president is not questionable," Mohammed al Sabri, an opposition spokesman, said.

Mr al Sabri said the opposition coalition, or Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), sent a delegation of five leaders led by the former foreign minister Mohammed Saleh Basundwah to discuss the GCC peace plan that was originally proposed on April 10.

The GCC plan urged Mr Saleh to cede power to his deputy, Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi, and called for the creation of an opposition-led national unity government.

The plan did not specify a time frame for a transfer of power and included immunity for Mr Saleh and his family from prosecution on any criminal charges that might be filed against them.

The GCC plan was accepted in principle by Mr Saleh but was later rejected by his camp as well as the opposition. Earlier, Mr Saleh had promised to resign by the end of this year.

It was hoped that yesterday's meeting would iron out the problems and lead to an end to Mr Saleh's 32 years of autocratic rule. Mr Basundwah told reporters the opposition had agreed to meet at the invitation of the Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al Faisal and on condition that no Saleh representatives would be included. Yemen is not a member state of the six-nation GCC.

"We hope that our brothers in the GCC will listen to the demands of the Yemeni people and co-ordinate their role in the talks with respect to that and to the special relations between Yemen and the GCC. We hope this time they go beyond the worries and concerns … that the country will slip into chaos," said Mr al Sabri.

"The Yemeni people want better relations with the region and the world. Our revolution won't be exported or affect any country in the region. Our priority is building a better country that will be of benefit to its neighbours and the international community."

The massive turnout at demonstrations yesterday suggests opposition forces have been able to tap into fresh outrage against Mr Saleh after his comments on Friday that mingling of men and women at protests violated Islamic law. A youth movement leading the anti-Salah protests called for mass demonstrations yesterday, dubbed a day of "honour and dignity" that brought out a strong contingent of women. A young woman first led anti-Saleh demonstrations in late January, but women did not begin taking part in large numbers until early March. It was a startling step in a nation with deeply conservative social and Islamic traditions.

"I call on them to prevent mingling [of men and women] that is against sharia outside Sana'a University," Mr Saleh told thousands of his supporters on Friday.

His remarks led to hundreds of thousands of protesters gathering in major cities such Taiz, Ibb, Aden, Hodiedah, Sana'a, al Baidah and Mukalla to demanding his apology while others sought his prosecution.

"The president has abused all Yemeni women and all women. We are here to demand for him to apologise for his slanderous speech. This man has lost his mind," said Zainab al Samawi while standing in front of the general prosecutor's office with a Yemeni flag around her shoulders.

The National Solidarity Council, a tribal coalition, released a statement yesterday describing Mr Saleh's speech as an "abuse to all Yemenis - men and women - and a signal of the fall of the legitimacy of this man who abuses his people in such a way".

malqadhi@thenational.ae

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