Yemen opposition to approve Gulf mediation deal

AP News
Posted: Apr 26, 2011 1:44 PM
Yemen opposition to approve Gulf mediation deal

Yemen's opposition parties said Tuesday they will soon sign a deal mediated by neighboring Gulf countries for the embattled president to step down, possibly defusing months of deadly government protests across this impoverished Arab nation.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled for 32 years, has already agreed to the proposal that would create a national unity government and have him transfer power to his vice president within 30 days of the deal being signed. In exchange, Saleh and his family would received immunity from prosecution.

But the proposal, put forward by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, appears to have opened a serious rift between opposition parties and the hundreds of thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets daily since February to demand Saleh's immediate resignation.

The coalition of youth groups behind the two-month-old uprising rejected the deal, and in a statement called for nationwide civil disobedience between 8 a.m. and noon on Wednesday. The groups vowed to repeat this action every Saturday and Wednesday until Saleh steps down.

"We will march to the presidential palaces, the government headquarters and parliament and occupy them peacefully," said Abdul-Malek al-Youssefi, an activist and protest organizer. "Our demands are that the regime leave along with the opposition leaders who are old and no longer reflect the aspirations of the street."

Mohammed Salem Bassindwa, head of the opposition's national dialogue council, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he expected to soon sign the initiative by the GCC, which is led by regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia.

"We have approved the Gulf Arab initiative and the signing of the agreement will take place in the next 24 hours," he said.

However, a senior opposition figure said the GCC proposals were accepted under pressure from the United States and Saudi Arabia, which wields immense influence in Yemen. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Washington has poured millions of dollars into Yemen in recent years to help its security forces fight al-Qaida militants who have taken refuge in some of Yemen's remote or mountainous areas.

While the deal has been approved by the opposition coalition, several dissenting voices have emerged within the movement.

Mohammed al-Sabri, spokesman of the opposition parties, criticized the acceptance of the GCC initiative. He noted that he was speaking for himself and not in his capacity as the movement's spokesman.

"The opposition has betrayed its members and the Yemen street," he said. "How can we speak about the corruption of the government and at the same time share a national unity government with it?"

Tawakul Karman, a senior member of the main opposition party, Islah, also rejected the proposals.

"We will not accept them and will continue our protests harder," she said at Change Square near Sanaa University where thousands of protesters have camped for weeks.

In the country's second largest city, Taiz, security forces opened fire on tens of thousands of protesters, killing one demonstrator and wounding at least 14 were wounded, activist Nouh al-Wafi told AP.

Security forces also wounded at least eight protesters in the western city of Hodeida, and three in the southern port city of Aden.

The protesters were demanding Saleh's immediate resignation and rejecting the GCC proposals.

More than 130 people have been killed by security forces and Saleh supporters since the unrest erupted in early February. At least 40 were killed in a single attack on March 18 by rooftop snipers overlooking protesters in Sanaa.