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New Yemen premier has roots in revolution

Mohamed Salem Basindawa, Yemen's prime minister-designate, bears the legacy of anti-colonial struggle as he sets about the tough task of leading the country and a divided, jarring cabinet

AFP , Thursday 8 Dec 2011
Yemen's opposition leaders Mohammed Basindwa (R) and Yassin Noman chat during their meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Foreign Ministers in Riyadh April 17, (Photo: Reuters).
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Views: 1859

Yemen's new prime minister, Mohamed Salem Basindawa, who has been tasked with forming a transitional unity government, is a seasoned politician with a clean record and a revolutionary past.

Basindawa, 76, a southerner born in the port city of Aden, fought to liberate the former South Yemen from British colonial rule.

Ten years ago, the former minister and adviser to President Ali Abdullah Saleh quit the ruling General People's Congress and became an opponent of the now embattled president, but did not join any official opposition parties.

Today, Basindawa, as Yemen's new premier, is tasked with leading the country through a period of crippling political and economic instability and deadly violence that in more than 10 months of mass anti-government protests has left hundreds dead and thousands wounded.

The challenges are daunting and his partners in government will be divided, with half the new cabinet ministers appointed from Saleh's party and the other half from the formal opposition Common Forum.

The opposition is sceptical that Saleh, who will remain honorary president until February, will formally resign in three months and allow early elections as stipulated by the Gulf-sponsored transition plan agreed last month.

Basindawa, born in 1935, began his career as a merchant, selling dried fish to Sri Lanka. But he was also politically active from the very beginning.

The bald and elderly politician is also a former journalist, who in the 1960s was in charge of two weekly magazines, a profession that eventually led to his arrest by the British authorities that ruled southern Yemen, a former colony until its independence in 1967.

At one point, his anti-colonial writings and activism saw him exiled to Eritrea.

In 1962, Basindawa formally joined the newly established Yemeni People's Socialist Party, at the time an Arab nationalist group which in 1963 was given the seal of approval by Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The young activist quickly rose to prominence, becoming the party's president in 1964.

He later took on a more active role in the fight against British colonial rule, when his party joined the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen.

Basindawa took charge of the armed struggle in Aden, and on the diplomatic front represented south Yemen at the United Nations on several occasions, bringing the south's struggle for independence to the global stage.

In 1965, just two years before the British rule of south Yemen came to an end, Basindawa turned his attention northwards and moved to Taez, a city in the former North Yemen that today remains wracked by deadly clashes between pro-Saleh troops and armed tribesman supporting Saleh's ouster.

In Taez he focused his efforts on unifying north and south Yemen. By the early 1970s, he had relocated to Sanaa where he delved into politics as labour and social affairs minister at first, then minister of planning, minister of information and culture and finally adviser to President Saleh.

His political career in Saleh's government spanned three decades, and included a diplomatic mission as Yemen's UN ambassador, ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, and foreign minister.

Yemen's north and south were unified in 1990, but a decade later, Basindawa grew weary of Saleh's system of patronage and corruption, and eventually withdrew from the ruling party.

Now the prime minister-designate has been chosen by Yemen's opposition parliamentary groups to form a cabinet and lead the country through a delicate three-month transition that ends in February when Saleh formally steps down in favour of Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.

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