Yemen deadlock threatens escalation

AFP , Tuesday 6 Sep 2011

A political stalemate in Yemen edges closer to confrontation as a proposed UN roadmap seeks to build on a previous Gulf plan to reach a peaceful transition of power

Anti-government protesters march to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Sunday, (Reuters).

Three months after the forced medical leave of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a political stalemate in Yemen threatens to degenerate into open confrontation between Saleh loyalists and opponents.

The elite Republican Guard troops, commanded by Ahmed, the eldest son of Saleh, have reinforced their presence this week and deployed tanks and missiles on the hills overlooking Sanaa, witnesses said.

Soldiers loyal to dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, fewer and less well armed, have fortified their positions in areas they control in Sanaa, mainly around University Square, renamed Change Square by protesters camped there.

Armed civilians have also been sighted on both sides of Zubair street, which now divides Sanaa between the areas controlled by government forces and that held by the opposition.

"The regime rejects a political solution and could use other options. But the military option would be a mistake," said Yassin Saeed Noman, leader of the Common Forum which groups parliamentary opposition parties.

Saleh was flown to Riyadh on board a Saudi medical aircraft after he was wounded in a bomb blast attack on his Sanaa compound on June 3. He is now recovering in the Saudi capital, vowing to return soon.

Despite deadly protests demanding his ouster since January, Saleh has repeatedly refused to sign a deal brokered by Gulf monarchies for a peaceful transition of power.

The plan provides for the formation of a national unity government led by the opposition while Saleh would hand power to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.

Saleh would resign a month later in return for immunity against prosecution for him and his family, but the president has refused to hand over any powers to his deputy in his absence.

The British ambassador to Yemen, Jonathan Wilks, on Monday urged both sides to resort to negotiations based on the Gulf plan and a UN-proposed roadmap.

"What Yemen needs urgently is a peaceful political settlement to the crisis. Violence is not a solution to any of Yemen's problems," he said in statement posted on the embassy's website.

"The priority now should be for all sides to be more active in negotiating a political settlement based on the GCC initiative and the roadmap for implementation of political transition developed by UN envoy Jamal Benomar."

The UN roadmap was drawn up in two weeks of talks in July held by Benomar in Yemen with the opposition and leading figures of the GCC, according to opposition sources and a Western diplomat.

They said the plan has four points, including a handover of power by Saleh to his deputy, Hadi, followed immediately by talks on a transitional period ranging from three to six months.

The interim period would see the formation of a reconciliation government, the restructuring of military bodies, and preparations for and setting a date for a new presidential election.

The roadmap is similar to the Gulf mediation plan which Saleh has refused to sign for several months.

But whereas the Gulf plan stipulates a one-month interim period ending with Saleh's resignation, the UN roadmap provides for an extended period of up to six months.

Unlike the roadmap, the Gulf plan does not call for a restructuring of military institutions, the most powerful of which are controlled by Saleh's family members.

With the situation in deadlock, the opposition has decided to escalate street protests demanding the resignation of Saleh and called for demonstrations across the country on Tuesday.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators already gathered on Sunday in Change Square, guarded by the First Armoured Division of General Ahmar.

The General People's Congress ruling party accused the parliamentary opposition of fomenting a "plot" by exploiting the young protesters in order to "seize power" by force.

And the interior ministry on Monday accused fighters of powerful tribal leader Sadeq al-Ahmar, who has sided with the opposition, of preparing "an outbreak of violence in the (Sanaa) area of Al-Hassaba."

Heavy fighting in the neighbourhood in late May between government forces and supporters of the tribal chief left 140 dead.

Both sides dug trenches and mounted checkpoints in the area while most shops were closed on Monday. "We are heading toward confrontation," warned Yemeni analyst Ali Saif Hassan.

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