Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has refused to sign an agreement brokered by Gulf countries that calls for him to step down, opposition leaders said.
Saleh won’t sign as president and will only ratify the agreement as chairman of the ruling General People’s Congress, Mohammed Basendwah, head of the Preparatory Committee for National Dialogue, said in a telephone interview from Sana’a. That is unacceptable to the opposition because it would entail changing the wording of the accord, Basendwah said.
“No one has the right to amend the agreement,” said Basendwah, who will be heading the opposition delegation to the signing ceremony. “It should be accepted as it is.”
Protests in Yemen have persisted even after Saleh and the main opposition movement agreed to a plan brokered by Gulf states for him to cede power in a month’s time and be granted immunity from prosecution. He would be the third Middle Eastern leader forced from office by popular protest movements this year, after Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Abdel Latif al-Zayyani met with Saleh yesterday and informed the opposition following his meeting that the president had not signed the accord, Mohammed al-Qahtan, spokesman of the opposition Joint Meeting Parties, told Al Arabiya television. Saleh had been expected to sign yesterday in advance of a formal signing ceremony in Riyadh later today.
Ahmed al-Soufi, a senior member of Yemen’s ruling party, said Saleh is “not party” to the conflict, when asked by Al-Jazeera television yesterday whether the president will sign.
The Joint Meeting Parties, which represents six opposition groups, is concerned that by not signing as head of state Saleh may not abide by the terms of the accord.
“If he signs as chairman of the party and the party says it rejects his decision, he will remain president,” Mohammed al-Mutawakkil, a member of the JMP’s higher council said in a telephone interview from Sana’a.
“We’re waiting to see what the GCC will do,” Basendwah said.
In March, Saleh, 69, agreed to an opposition proposal to hand over power by the end of the year, then backtracked by saying he’d stand down only after a newly elected government was formed and power was transferred to safer hands.
The agreement was brokered by ministers from the GCC, which includes the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait. It would grant immunity for Saleh, his family and long-time aides.
Avert an Escalation
GCC officials are seeking to avert an escalation of the violence in Yemen or a deadly military divide like the one in Libya. Rising social unrest also threatens to strengthen al-Qaeda as it seeks to use Yemen, the poorest Arab nation, as a base from which to destabilize neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of crude oil.
Two Yemeni soldiers were killed when armed men attacked a police station in the southern city of Aden, the state-run Saba news agency reported, citing an unidentified security official. Two soldiers were also wounded when their security vehicles in the city, the news service said today.
The U.S. has backed Saleh, a key ally in the fight against al-Qaeda, with $300 million a year of military and economic aid.
A weak central government in Yemen risks mirroring the situation in Somalia, across the Gulf of Aden, where there hasn’t been a functioning central administration since 1991. Somalia has become a breeding ground for pirates who attack shipping lanes.
Protests in Yemen calling for an end to Saleh’s rule are in their third month. At least 100 people have died in Yemen as security forces repeatedly fired on demonstrations that began on Feb. 11, according to the Arabic Sisters Forum for Human Rights in Sana’a.