x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Yemeni opposition say GCC plan is 'dead'

Qatar withdraws its support for the GCC proposal for a transfer of power in Yemen as the civilian death toll continues to rise.

SANA'A // A GCC plan to resolve the conflict in Yemen was abandoned by the country's opposition yesterday, signalling the potential for continuing violence and political instability.

"The initiative of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council is dead," Yemen's parliamentary opposition spokesman Mohammed Qahtan told reporters. He said Qatar's pullout from the initiative on Thursday was the main reason for the deal's demise.

Qatar's official news agency said the GCC secretary general, Abdullatif bin Rashid al Zayani, was informed of the withdrawal decision on Thursday.

With the demise of the GCC proposal, Mr Zayani announced that he will arrive in Sana'a today to salvage the plan.

"The GCC general secretary, Zayani, is expected to visit Sana'a Saturday morning in last efforts in finalise the GCC proposal," said Mohammed Sabri, a spokesman for the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), the main opposition coalition. "We informed Zayani that the opposition will withdraw from the agreement if it is not signed."

Qatar's prime minister, Shiekh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani, was quoted by state media as saying, "The Qatari withdrawal was due to the continuous bloodshed and rising death toll in Yemen."

Yesterday's developments came as anti-government demonstrators rallied in several cities, leading to dozens of injuries, and as seven Yemeni soldiers were reported killed in two ambushes.

The government's Republican Guards killed at least three anti-regime protesters yesterday in the southern city of Ibb, opposition sources and witnesses said, bringing the death toll to 179 since protests began in January.

Mr Qahtan said the movement against Mr Saleh would respond to the recent violence and the collapse of the GCC deal by intensifying "the peaceful revolt in coming days and turn it into a civil disobedience movement that will lead to the downfall of the president and bring him and his henchmen to justice".

Qatar was among six Gulf nations pushing a deal for Mr Saleh to step down after 32 years in power in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Three months of massive street protests have demanded the ruler's immediate departure. The GCC has in the past expressed concern that Yemen's mounting crisis could destabilise other parts of the Arabian Peninsula.

Mr Saleh's ruling General People's Congress party welcomed the abandonment of the GCC-deal, claiming that Qatar was a burden to the proposal. "Qatar only hurt Yemen. Its intentions were not pure and that could also be noticed in its coverage of the Yemen crises on its Al Jazeera channel," said Abdu Janadi, spokesman for the Yemeni government.

Leaders of the youth-led anti-government movement encamped in central Sana'a praised the Qatari decision to leave the negotiations, saying the immunity clause for Mr Saleh and his inner circle stood in the way of the "will of the Yemeni people".

"This proposal was rejected by the people from day one. We will not give immunity to Saleh and his corrupt regime," said Mansoor Akwa, a leading youth activist in Sana'a. "Saleh will face the same fate of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt."

Mr Saleh, who personally accepted the initiative when it was proposed in early April, refused to finalise the deal as the Yemeni president, agreeing only to sign it as head of the ruling party. The proposal led to a diplomatic crisis between Doha and Sana'a, which recalled its ambassador to Qatar in protest at a statement by the prime minister that Mr Saleh must go.

The proposal had lost ground over the last week among opposition leaders.

"What value does the GCC proposal have if Saleh continues to kill people? We are strongly considering the immunity we are giving him," said Hatem Abu Hatem, a senior opposition official from the Nasserite party.

JMP warned of any delay to finalise the deal and urged the GCC to pressure Mr Saleh to sign it immediately.

"We do not want the GCC proposal if it will not be enforced on both sides to sign. The international community must stand with the Yemeni people against Saleh who has lost his legitimacy to rule," added Abu Hatem.

Addressing supporters yesterday, Mr Saleh promised to remain in power and called opposition parties "outlaws and killers," telling them: "Stop playing with fire, otherwise, our people in all villages and neighbourhoods, supported by the military institution, will not stand idle but will retaliate decisively."

Yemen's National Organisation for Defending Rights and Freedoms responded that the speech "amounts to a call for a civil war in the country".

* With additional reporting from Agence France-Presse and Associated Press