x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Saleh throws twist into peace plan for Yemen

A GCC deal to end the political crisis was stalled yesterday after he refused to sign the agreement that would have him quit power as the head of the state.

An elderly anti-government protestor, center, carried on the shoulders of other demonstrators, reacts during a demonstration in Sana'a.
An elderly anti-government protestor, center, carried on the shoulders of other demonstrators, reacts during a demonstration in Sana'a.

SANA'A // A Gulf Cooperation Council deal to end Yemen's political crisis was stalled yesterday after President Ali Abdullah Saleh refused to sign the agreement that would have him quit power within a month as the head of the state.

An official in the ruling General People's Congress said that the president suggested to Abdulatif al Zayani, the GCC secretary general, that he would sign in Yemen as the president of the ruling party and not as the president of Yemen.

The official who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media said, in the light of this the time and venue of the signing ceremony will be changed.

Yemen's main opposition coalition said it would not accept that Mr Saleh inks the agreement as the head of the ruling party.

"It does not matter to us if we sign here or in Riyadh but we do not accept but his signature as the president of the country as the GCC plan stipulates," Mohammed Kahtan, spokesman of the six-party opposition coalition known as Joint Meeting Parties.

Mr al Zayani held talks in Sana'a yesterday between the president and the opposition but he left Yemen last night with the deal still in doubt.

An official in the ruling party announced that Abdulkarim al Iryani, the president's political adviser and vice president of the party, would lead a government delegation to Riyadh to sign the GCC deal on behalf of Mr Saleh, which was rejected by the opposition officials who said they would not go to Riyadh unless Saleh signs first.

"It is the ruling congress and the JMP [opposition coalition Joint Meeting Parties] that are meant to sign the agreement and not President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is a party in this conflict between the ruling party and the opposition," said a government official who requested anonymity.

The JMP insists it will not travel to Riyadh if Mr Saleh does not sign the agreement in person, said Mohammed Kahtan, JMP spokesman.

The GCC plan calls for Mr Saleh to resign and hand power to his vice president one month after signing the proposal. An opposition leader would then be appointed to lead an interim cabinet charged with preparing presidential elections two months later.

The plan, which gives Mr Saleh 30 days to resign and would establish a "unity" government within a week, was endorsed in principle by the government and JMP last week.

The deal stipulates that Mr Saleh step down in a month and offers him and his inner circle, including relatives who run branches of the security and military forces, immunity from prosecution.

The JMP said it accepted the plan after assurances from the GCC that the plan does not mandate the end of ongoing street protests and sit-ins that have crippled the country. The ruling party has maintained that the deal put an immediate end to the protests. More than 130 demonstrators have been killed by security forces since February 11.

Abdullah Ali Aliwah, former minister of defence, and Mohammed Haitham Qasim, a former senior defence ministry official, were expected to attend the signing ceremony in place of Mr Saleh, a government source said.

Certain youth groups involved in organizing the protests have rejected the GCC plan and vowed they to escalate civil disobedience until the regime falls. The protesters object to granting Mr Saleh immunity to prosecution, specifically for his alleged role in the deaths of demonstrators.

Tension has escalated in cities and towns across Yemen since gunmen shot dead 12 protesters in Sana'a on Wednesday. The opposition warned that the violence could derail the GCC deal.

Four protesters were killed yesterday in the port city of Aden after military troops backed by tanks and armoured vehicles dispersed hundreds of anti-government protesters from the protest site in the Al Mansurah district.

More than 20 protesters were also wounded in the attack in which the soldiers set the sit-in tents ablaze, and chased protesters through streets and alleys, witnesses said. By late yesterday night, soldiers and tanks and armoured vehicles were patrolling the streets.

Tens of thousands of people protested yesterday evening in the city of Taiz to denounce the crackdown on protesters in Aden.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets across the country on Friday to denounce the GCC deal, vowing to continue protesting until Mr Saleh quits his post, which he held since 1978. The protesters have called for Mr Saleh to be put on trial for the killings of protesters and corruption allegations.

malqadhi@thenational.ae