Rival Yemeni forces quit streets of Taiz, official says

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2011 5:08 AM
Rival Yemeni forces quit streets of Taiz, official says

By Mohammed Ghobari

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemeni forces loyal to outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh and opposition gunmen are withdrawing from the streets of Taiz city, an official said on Friday.

Dozens have been killed in Taiz, Yemen's commercial capital, since Saleh signed a deal last month to give up power. Months of anti-government protests have pushed the impoverished country to the brink of civil war.

The official said a committee set up to restore normality to Taiz was clearing away road blocks set up by Saleh opponents and loyalists during street battles, and overseeing their withdrawal from occupied buildings.

Protesters continue to take to the streets in anger at the opposition parties' endorsement of the power transfer deal, which grants immunity from prosecution to Saleh over the killing of demonstrators by security forces.

Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) party said it would stop holding pro-government rallies after Friday prayers to show its commitment to a political solution.

"The decision by the party's leadership is a new sign of the GPC's eager desire to act in the higher interest of the nation and to begin ending the political crisis," said a statement from the party that urged opposition parties to do the same.

A member of the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) said it was not for them to call off street protests.

"We in the JMP do not have the authority to cancel protests and sit-ins. It's the youth movement that controls the protesters," the assistant secretary-general of the socialist party told Reuters.

Under the transfer plan negotiated by Yemen's wealthy Gulf neighbors, the GPC and opposition parties divide up cabinet posts between them and form a national unity government to steer the country ahead of a presidential election in February.

The cabinet, which is due to be sworn in on Saturday, faces a host of challenges including a southern separatist movement, a rebellion in the north and a regional wing of al Qaeda that has exploited the upheaval to strengthen its foothold in Yemen.

Neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United States, both targets of foiled attacks by al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, fear the global militant network could use a security vacuum to plot and perhaps carry out attacks on the region and beyond.

The interior ministry said it was making arrangements for the United Nations envoy who helped broker the power transfer deal to visit the north and south of the country, where central government control has been severely weakened.

Opposition leader Mohammed Basindwa, who is now prime minister, said his first foreign visit would be to oil-rich Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to ask for urgent support for Yemen's fuel and electricity needs.

(Writing by Isabel Coles; editing by Philippa Fletcher)