Yemeni President Rejects Gulf Initiative as Protests Swell

Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh ruled out mediation by Persian Gulf countries that have offered to seek a compromise between his regime and a growing protest movement, calling the effort “blatant interference.”

“We were born free, and we have free will, and they have to respect our wishes,” Saleh told supporters gathered near the presidential palace in Sana’a today. “We reject any coup against democracy, the constitution and our freedom.” Elsewhere in the capital, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators joined a rally to demand an immediate end to Saleh’s rule.

In the southern city of Taiz, the site of clashes in the past week that left at least 15 protesters dead, security forces fired bullets and teargas on a crowd, killing four and injuring hundreds, Sadek al-Shujaa, head of the field clinic in Taiz, said by telephone.

“This is a massacre,” al-Shujaa said. “We live in an atmosphere of a war.” More than 100 protesters have gunshot wounds and another 400 suffered from teargas inhalation, he said.

Saudi Arabia had invited Saleh and representatives of Yemen’s opposition for talks in Riyadh to end more than two months of nationwide protests and escalating violence by security forces. Police and snipers killed 46 protesters in Sana’a on March 18, prompting several military and government officials to abandon Saleh’s regime.

GCC Initiative

The U.S. welcomed the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative today. “We strongly encourage all sides to engage in this urgently needed dialogue to reach a solution supported by the Yemeni people,” the acting State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said in an e-mailed statement.

Qatar’s prime minister, Hamad Bin Jasim Bin Jaber Al Thani, said this week that the GCC effort aimed at reaching a deal that would involve Saleh stepping down. The main coalition of opposition parties had agreed to attend the talks.

“Our power comes from the power of our great people, not from Qatar, not from anyone else,” Saleh said in his speech. “This is blatant interference in Yemeni affairs.’

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