Yemen due to seal transition deal, snags emerge | Pakistan Today

Yemen due to seal transition deal, snags emerge

Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh was due to sign a Gulf-brokered pact on Sunday that would make him the third Arab leader ousted by protests this year, but snags were emerging that could scupper a deal yet again. Saleh, a political survivor who has twice backed out of signing at the last minute, is under strong diplomatic pressure to go ahead this time to end three months of protests that have paralysed the economy and raised fears of anarchy. The deal would ease Saleh out of power within a month and give him, his family and close aides immunity from prosecution, ensuring a dignified exit after nearly 33 years at the helm of the Arabian Peninsula state, located on a shipping lane through which three million barrels of oil pass every day.
Hundreds of Saleh loyalists rallied against the deal on Sunday, blocking main roads and briefly preventing a Gulf mediator from heading to the presidential palace in Sanaa, as the ruling party added new demands ahead of the signing. “We reject signing the Gulf initiative and the coup against legitimacy,” some pro-Saleh demonstrators shouted from their cars over loudspeakers, while others piled up stone barricades to block traffic. Witnesses said the mediator, Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Abdullatif al-Zayani, was stranded in the embassy compound of the United Arab Emirates where he is staying as Saleh’s supporters protested nearby.
The protesters later left, witnesses said. The United States and Saudi Arabia, both targets of foiled attacks by al Qaeda’s Yemen wing, are keen to end the Yemeni stalemate to avert deeper chaos that could give one of the militant network’s most potent arms more room to thrive. Foreign ministers of the Gulf Arab states that negotiated it were expected to discuss Yemen at a meeting on Sunday in Riyadh. More than 170 protesters have been killed in a crackdown on demonstrations, part of the wave of uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East that swept aside the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.
Yemeni opposition officials, representing a coalition that includes Islamists and leftists, signed the deal on Saturday after indications from Gulf mediators that Saleh would sign a day later. But the government side was adding new demands. “The initiative must be signed at the palace in the presence of all sides,” a ruling party official said. The opposition said it had already signed the deal and would not comply. The opposition is under pressure to avoid further compromises from youth-led street protesters — including students and tribesmen — who seek Saleh’s immediate exit and who have vowed to continue daily rallies until Saleh quits.
Tens of thousands of protesters rallied peacefully on Sunday across Yemeni cities to keep up the pressure. They have threatened to step up their campaign by marching on government buildings, a tactic that led to more bloodshed this month when security forces opened fire to stop them. Strikes have brought commerce to a halt in many cities and protests have created fuel shortages in a country already in turmoil — Yemen faces revolts from Shi’ite rebels in the north and separatists in the south. U.S. President Barack Obama said in a speech on U.S. policy in the Arab world on Thursday that Saleh needed to “follow through on his commitment to transfer power”. European diplomats have also pressed both sides to agree on a deal.
Saleh, who has seen a wave of desertions including from within Yemen’s military and political elite, called on Friday for an early presidential election he said was aimed at preventing bloodshed as protests raged on. Saleh, a longtime ally of the West against al Qaeda, has warned Yemen’s allies that al Qaeda could take over in a political and security vacuum after he steps down.



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