Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh declined to sign an accord yesterday requiring him to give up power within 30 days, the third time Gulf-led transition efforts have failed to ease unrest in the country.
In a sign of the deep divisions that threaten to split the Arab world’s poorest nation, Yemenis marked the 21st anniversary of the country’s unification yesterday with rallies for and against the president.
“Leave, leave,” chanted tens of thousands of anti-government protesters in cities and villages across the country, including the capital Sana’a. Pro-Saleh demonstrators blocked main roads in the capital and the entrance to the United Arab Emirates Embassy, where U.S. and Arab diplomats were gathered.
“We came here to close the road to express our objection to the agreement and to the president’s signing of the agreement,” said Shadi al-Badani, 27, a medical student.
President Barack Obama’s administration is seeking to encourage pro-democracy movements inspired by those that ousted longtime leaders in Tunisia and Egypt as part of the so-called Arab Spring to create broader, regional changes. Obama sought last week to start a new peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
Yemeni military helicopters landed at the UAE embassy in the evening and ferried the diplomats out to the presidential palace, the Associated Press reported.
Saleh said in a televised speech yesterday that he will only sign the accord, brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council, when the opposition agrees to ratify it at the presidential palace. He said the six-member opposition Joint Meeting Parties would be responsible for the bloodshed that would result if the country were to descend into civil war.
Saleh said, in a phone call with Saudi and Bahraini kings, the Kuwaiti emir and Oman’s sultan, that the insistence of the opposition parties “to sign the deal in closed rooms confirms the bad intentions they have in dealing with this agreement,” according to the state-run Saba news agency.
Later in Riyadh the Gulf Cooperation Council, after a meeting of the foreign ministers, said in a statement to reporters that it will suspend its effort to solve the Yemeni crisis.
Saleh “needs to follow through with his commitment to transfer power,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement posted on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a.
The two parties have been close to ratifying the agreement several times since it was first presented last month. The first signing ceremony was supposed to take place in the Saudi capital Riyadh on May 1; a second signing ceremony was planned for May 18. Last minute hurdles upended both efforts.
“I will not believe there’s a deal until Saleh has done what he has been asked to do,” Charles Dunbar, former U.S. ambassador to Yemen and professor at Boston University, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “This is kind of the way Yemenis do business. Generally speaking, there’s a lot of negotiations and eventually they get to some kind of a deal.”
In Syria, more than 60 civilians have been killed since May 20 in clashes between pro-democracy protestors and government security forces. A total of 863 civilians and 140 security forces have been killed in about two months of clashes in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Obama in a May 19 speech urged an end to the crackdowns on protesters and told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to lead a peaceful transition to democracy or “get out of the way.”
Egyptian pro-democracy groups are calling for a second round of “rage” protests on May 27 because of a lack of political progress and perceived failure to prosecute members of former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
The protests are proposed by several groups including Six of April Youth, which helped organize the first of a series of protests on Jan. 25 that led to Mubarak’s departure in February. Demonstrators will demand speedy trials for members of the former regime, the dissolution of municipal councils and establishment of a 50-member committee to advise Egypt’s ruling military council, Mohamed Adel, spokesman for the group, said.
Egypt is disintegrating socially and its economy “is busted,” said Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency and possible candidate for the Egyptian presidency, said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”
In Libya, European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, expressed support for opponents of Muammar Qaddafi and his four-decade rule of the country. “I’m here today to explain and to be clear about not only the short-term support of the EU but the breadth and depth of our support,” Ashton told reporters during a visit to the rebel stronghold city of Benghazi in the east of the country.
Three months of fighting have left rebels mostly in control of the east, while NATO has led an air campaign against forces loyal to Qaddafi.
In Morocco, police yesterday cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators trying to stage marches in cities across the country to seek a change in government. Demonstrators in Rabat, Casablanca and Tangier followed a pledge by King Mohammed VI to make “progress in democracy.” He vowed to increase transparency in the judicial system, allow for more freedom of religion and have a prime minister from an elected party.
Demonstrations in Morocco began Feb. 20, aiming to reduce Mohammed’s power, curb corruption and end police brutality.