x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Yemen's president defies calls to quit as more protesters killed

Yemen's president defies calls for him to step down immediately as government forces fire at protesters, killing two demonstrators at two separate rallies and wounding at least 10 people at a third.

Police use a water cannon to disperse anti-government protesters during a demonstration demanding the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Taiz Monday.
Police use a water cannon to disperse anti-government protesters during a demonstration demanding the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Taiz Monday.

SANA'A // Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has defied calls for him to step down immediately, saying he won't hand power to "insurrectionists".

"We are committed to constitutional legitimacy and don't accept chaos," Mr Saleh said in an interview with BBC Arabic on Sunday. "Whom shall I hand it over to? Those who are trying to make a coup? No. We will do it through ballot boxes and referendums."

Protests have continued after Mr Saleh and the main opposition coalition agreed to a Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered plan for Mr Saleh to cede power in a month's time and be granted immunity from prosecution.

Forces loyal to the president opened fire at protesters across the country yesterday, killing two demonstrators at two separate rallies and wounding at least 10 people at a third protest, activists said.

The deaths yesterday came during anti-Saleh protests in Ibb and in Bayda, said activist Ibrahim al-Budani.

In Ibb, demonstrators set fire to two cars used by government-paid supporters who shot at them but the attackers managed to flee, he said.

In Taiz, presidential guard troops, who are controlled by Mr Saleh's eldest son, fired bullets and tear gas into protesters, according to activist Nouh al-Wafi.

Another activist, Bushra al-Maqtari, said at least 10 protesters were wounded by gunshots in Taiz. Dozens suffered breathing problems from the tear gas.

In March, Mr Saleh, 68, agreed to an opposition proposal to hand over power by the end of the year, then backtracked by saying he'd stand down only after a newly elected government was formed and power transferred to safer hands.

Among the Yemeni opposition, youth groups have rejected the GCC initiative and called for continued rallies against Mr Saleh, the Revolution Coalition of Peaceful Change said yesterday at a press conference in Sana'a. The government "doesn't keep its word and its existence has become dangerous not only to Yemen but to the entire region," the group said.

In his BBC interview, the president said he supports change but "we will do it through ballot boxes and referendums. We'll invite international observers to monitor the fairness of the election."

Mr Saleh, who has been in power for almost 33 years, said al Qa'eda militants are infiltrating the camps of the protesters and soldiers who have defected.

"This is very dangerous… Why is the West not looking at this destructive work and its dangerous implications for the future?" he said.

Adel al Rabee, an activist in Sana'a, said: "The president's interview is scary and shows he is escalating and that he is withdrawing his acceptance of the GCC plan."

"I think any escalation by the president will make our revolution stronger and more vibrant," Mr al Rabee added.

Mr Saleh agreed on Saturday to a formula by the GCC for him to transfer power to his vice president within 30 days of a deal being signed.

The proposal, which also states that a unity government be established within a week, was accepted by Yemen's largest opposition group, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), but the president has yet to sign the agreement.

Despite welcoming the plan, the JMP said it would not take part in a transitional government with the ruling party as outlined in the proposal. Further, the JMP said it could not force protesters to stand down.

In response to the opposition rejection to take part in a transitional government, Mr Saleh said he would be forced to form a cabinet from the ruling party and its allies and independents and will call for early parliamentary and presentational elections.

Abdulbari Taher, an independent analyst, has described Mr Saleh's speech as "dangerous".

"He has accepted the GCC plan and then, he talks about coups and elections… he is challenging the world," Mr Taher added.

malqadhi@tehnational.ae