Yemen to respond on reforms, activists skeptical

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 3:53 PM

By Mohamed Sudam and Mohammed Ghobari

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh will respond "positively" to an opposition roadmap for him to step down from power and reform politics, a senior aide said, as anti-Saleh protests continued across the country.

Yemen's coalition of opposition parties, joined by some tribal and religious leaders, proposed a five point plan this week to Saleh, a U.S. ally against al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing who has ruled the Arabian Peninsula state for 32 years.

Leaders of the opposition coalition say their plan would pave the way for Saleh to step down by the end of 2011, though youths and activists have said they are skeptical of the plan and are demanding Saleh's immediate resignation.

"There will be a positive response to the proposal," a senior official told Reuters. "The details are being discussed by the two sides right now, and we'll announce a final position at a later time," he said. He did not specify when.

Mohammed al-Sabry, a spokesman for the opposition, also said Saleh would accept the plan.

However, Saleh was unable to persuade opponents that his previous offer to step down in 2013 was anything more than a maneuver to ward off unrest, galvanized by successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

"This is clearly a way of getting around the youth revolution. The protesters will not accept anything other than the departure of this regime immediately and with no delays," said Samia al-Aghbari, a leading Sanaa activist.

The opposition's plan include changing the constitution, rewriting election laws to ensure fair representation in parliament, removing Saleh's relatives from leadership positions in the army and security forces, and guaranteeing the right to peaceful protest.

"We shouldn't read too much into a so-called positive response," said Shadi Hamid, of the Brookings Center in Doha. "The strategy now is to stall ... and hold on as long as possible and hope protesters lose steam. I don't think we should be under the illusion Saleh will become a democrat overnight."

Saleh, whose cash-strapped government has been plagued by southern rebellion and an intermittent war with northern Shi'ite Muslim rebels, is now struggling to quell daily protests by tens of thousands continued across Yemen, from capital Sanaa to the southern port town of Aden.

Activists in various cities demanding change said they are forming a group called "Solidarity of the People" that they say can draw large crowds and show they have the mandate to push for Saleh's immediate resignation.

(Writing by Erika Solomon; Editing by Jon Boyle)