By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Friday condemned the Yemeni government crackdown on protesters but urged the signing of an agreement granting President Ali Abdullah Saleh immunity from prosecution.
Council approval of the British-drafted resolution comes nine months after the protests began in the Arab world's poorest country, inspired by "Arab Spring" uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
The measure, unanimously endorsed by the council, said the 15-nation body "strongly condemns ... excessive use of force against peaceful protesters," adding that "those responsible for violence, human rights violations and abuses should be held accountable."
But it offered no details on how accountability could be achieved if there is an immunity deal for Saleh and those close to him based on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative, which would protect them from prosecution for the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and human rights abuses.
The resolution called on both the government and opposition to "immediately reject the use of violence."
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the measure contained some "tough messages to President Saleh and the Yemeni authorities, and also to the opposition."
"The consensus vote reflects the very deep international concern about the deteriorating political, humanitarian, security and economic situation in Yemen," he said.
Although it does not formally endorse the GCC deal that would grant Saleh and people close to him immunity from prosecution, the resolution calls for the signature and implementation of an agreement based on that proposal "as soon as possible."
Western diplomats said they were pleased that Russia and China, which for months had opposed the idea of a legally binding resolution on Yemen, voted for the measure.
NOBEL LAUREATE: 'NOT STRONG ENOUGH'
Earlier this month Moscow and Beijing, which are usually reluctant to condemn government violence anywhere, jointly vetoed a resolution condemning Syria's clampdown on anti-government protesters that the United Nations says has killed at least 3,000 people since March.
Yemeni protest leader Tawakul Karman, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with two Liberian women this month, was outside the Security Council chamber at the time of vote. She said the resolution should have gone further.
"It is not strong enough," Karman told reporters about the resolution. "He (Saleh) has to be handed over to the authorities immediately."
Waleed al-Amari, one of the leaders of the revolutionary youth in 'Change Square' in Yemen's capital Sanaa, was also disappointed.
"This resolution serves in the interests of the dominant powers and some of the states in the region, but it does not fit with the aspirations of the Yemeni youth," he said.
Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch said the resolution was a "long-overdue condemnation of Yemeni government abuses."
But the council "should have more clearly distanced itself from the GCC impunity deal," he said.
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Sudam in Sanaa; Editing by Xavier Briand)