x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Opponents of Yemen's Saleh establish coalition, demand ouster

Several prominent Yemeni figures and lawmakers - many defectors from President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ruling Congress Party - set up their own political coalition and issue a statement insisting that Mr Saleh relinquish power.

SANA'A // A day after Yemen's opposition met with GCC members to discuss an end to the country's turmoil, hundreds of thousands of protesters marched to insist that the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh is the only option.

Meeting on Sunday in Riyadh, opposition members discussed with regional mediators a GCC proposal in which Mr Saleh would transfer power to his deputy and receive immunity from prosecution. The opposition called for Mr Saleh to step down at once and asked the GCC for clarification on the immunity guarantee.

Yesterday in Sana's, several top figures and lawmakers - many of them defectors from Mr Saleh's ruling Congress Party - set up their own political coalition, entitled "Justice and Construction Bloc" and issued a statement insisting that Mr Saleh relinquish power.

US-educated Mohammed Abulahoum, who is also a leader of the powerful Bakeel tribe, the second-largest tribe in Yemen, was among the founding members. Khaled al-Wazeer, who was transport minister before he defected, was also among the party's founders.

Sultan al Atwani, an opposition leader, told reporters in Riyadh after the meeting that the protesters support the GCC initiative "but we reject the paragraph that was issued in the final statement … which refers to the transfer of powers of the president. We demand the resignation of the president."

He said there was no discussion of the immunity proposal, and that more work needs to be done on the details of the proposal.

"The president is asking for guarantees and the GCC and other countries should figure out the nature of those guarantees," said Mr Atwani.

The plan appeals to Mr Saleh to cede power to his deputy, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, and establish a opposition-led national unity government that would set up a constitution and organise elections.

The ruling General People's Congress described the meeting between the Joint Meeting Parties, an opposition coalition of six parties, and the GCC ministers as a "failure due to the obstinate position of the JMP".

However, Mohammed Kahtan, spokesman for JMP, said the discussions were "fruitful".

"We are happy that our brothers in the GCC listened to our point of view. The GCC leaders were happy to hear from the JMP delegation about the guarantees that would be given to the president if he decides to step down," Mr Kahtan said.

A statement issued after the meeting said the GCC would meet with the Yemeni government in Sana'a, but did not specify a date.

Mr Tarik al Shami, a spokesman for the ruling party, said the government was "open to dialogue in a way that keeps the stability, unity and democracy in the country".

The GCC proposal 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. It was hoped the GCC efforts would find a solution to the dispute and bring an end to 32 years of autocratic rule over the impoverished country. The president has clung to power, despite months of almost-daily protests and defections by key allies in the military and powerful tribes.

Last week, Mr Saleh's office said, in response to the GCC mediation bid, that he has "no reservation about transferring power peacefully and smoothly within the framework of the constitution".

But, on Friday, Mr Saleh stood defiant when his supporters massed near the presidential palace. "These popular masses, these millions, in this square have come to say 'yes' to constitutional legitimacy," he told a crowd of tens of thousands.

The talks in Riyadh come amid intensifying mass protests. Yesterday, protesters filled the streets in about 15 provinces to condemn violence against demonstrators.

In Hodeidah, at least 45 were injured when police and armed government supporters attacked marchers, said witnesses and protest organisers. They said the protesters were attacked with live fire and stones.

In Taiz, tens of thousands condemned the "brutal attacks on protesters in Sana'a", calling with loudspeakers for a general strike and closures of businesses to pressure the regime's departure, according to witnesses.

Late on Sunday, in Sana'a, when crowds protested against Mr Saleh's call for an end to rallies in which men and women demonstrated together against the regime, security forces opened fire, injuring 30 people.

The JMP condemned the use of force and demanded that the international community intervene and protect the protesters. The ministry of interior denied that live fire was used against protesters, calling what happened a "riot".

The protesters called for a general strike in schools and business to take place on Mondays and Wednesdays for several hours.


* With additional reporting from the Associated Press