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US froze huge aid deal amid Yemen unrest

White House support for president Saleh has gradually ebbed

AFP , Friday 8 Apr 2011

The United States halted a record aid deal for Yemen in February amid growing unrest, marking a sharp about-face in US policy toward the anti-terror ally, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Unnamed US officials told the Journal the latest package potentially worth $1 billion or more was an attempt to get fluctuating US-Yemen counterterrorism cooperation back on track.

Washington had been due to deliver in February the first installment of the aid package, the White House's biggest investment yet to secure more active support from President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the fight against Al-Qaeda's notorious branch in Yemen.

But protesters took to the streets before the aid could reach Saleh, calling for an end to his 32-year rule amid a wave of anti-regime unrest roiling across the Middle East and North Africa.

The newspaper said the proposed package included up to $200 million in counterterrorism support for the fiscal year that ends on September 30 -- up from $155 million in fiscal 2010 and a mere $4.6 million in 2006 -- and about the same amount of funds for development assistance.

Saleh had long sought the development aid in order to convince the Yemeni public of the benefits of cooperating with Washington after he allowed US Special Forces to target militants inside his country despite widespread public opposition.

Potential aid worth $1 billion due for Yemen halted amidst unrest.

Spokesman Jay Carney reminded Saleh on Tuesday of his "responsibility to ensure the safety and security of Yemenis who are exercising their universal right to engage in political expression" in an usually personal warning following violence against demonstrators by Yemeni government forces.

Carney also urged Saleh to resolve the political impasse with the opposition so that "meaningful" political change could take place in an orderly and peaceful manner.

Western officials believe Al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen -- Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- was behind a failed plot to blow up an airliner bound for Detroit in 2009 and an attempt to detonate explosives last year on a cargo plane bound for Chicago.

In Yemen, Saleh's official response to opposition demands to step down and hand over to his deputy for an interim period has been to urge protesters to dismantle their roadblocks and go home.

Saleh has said he is willing to step down by the end of this year, but his ruling General People's Congress party has defiantly said he should serve out his term until 2013.

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