U.S. envoy: Yemen protests not answer, rather dialogue

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 9:40 AM
U.S. envoy: Yemen protests not answer, rather dialogue

SANAA (Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador to Yemen said protesters' demand for an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32-year autocratic rule would not solve the Arabian Peninsula state's woes, urging them to pursue dialogue instead.

Saleh, a U.S. ally against al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, has been struggling to quell weeks of pro-democracy demonstrations that have seen thousands of protesters take to the streets calling for his resignation.

In an interview with the state magazine al-Syasiah, which will be published in full on Saturday, U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein said dialogue was needed to find solutions acceptable to the opposition and the government.

"We've been clear in saying we don't believe that the demonstrations are the place where Yemen's problems will be solved. We think the problems have to be resolved through this process of dialogue and negotiations," he said.

"Our question is always, 'If President Saleh leaves, then what do you do on the next day?" said Feierstein, alluding to fears that, after decades of monolithic Saleh rule, a power vacuum might ensue and be filled by Islamist militants.

Yemen, already teetering on the brink of failed statehood, is of special concern to the United States, because it has been a base for one of al Qaeda's most active branches.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has carried out several attacks on Western targets and neighboring oil giant Saudi Arabia. Last October, two U.S.-bound parcel bombs were intercepted in Dubai and Britain in a plot claimed by AQAP.

The United States has played a careful balancing act as it tries to respond to pro-democracy protests buffeting entrenched U.S.-allied rulers in the Arab world, inspired by uprisings that toppled the autocratic presidents of Egypt and Tunisia.

U.S. President Barack Obama's critics have described his cautious response as ambivalent and loath to back Arab populations agitating for more democracy. Washington has been quicker to call long-time allied rulers in the Gulf to refrain from use of force and has backed the right to peaceful protests.

Protesters in Yemen want a greater say in a long-autocratic government filled with Saleh's relatives and allies and are also frustrated with rampant corruption and soaring unemployment.

Some 40 percent of Yemen's 23 million people live on less than $2 a day and a third face chronic hunger.

(Reporting by Mohammed Sudam; writing by Erika Solomon; editing by Mark Heinrich)