Yemen talks stall on role of relatives

Yemen opposition leaders say talks collapsed for a transfer of power over the proposed role of president's relatives in new government.

SANA'A // President Ali Abdullah Saleh denied yesterday that a transfer of power deal had been worked out, and opposition leaders claimed handover talks collapsed over the proposed role of Mr Saleh's relatives in the next government of Yemen.

Negotiations between Mr Saleh and his pro-reform opponents came amid threats of a furthering of the violence that has so far left more than 50 protesters dead, and increasing cries from critics that the longtime leader step down at once.

After the announcement that the talks were stumbling, protesters called for massive rallies tomorrow, Wednesday and Friday to demand the departure of the regime.

Also yesterday, the government attempted to deploy two army brigades from the Republican Guards, an army regiment led by Mr Saleh's son Ahmed, but the troops were stopped by local tribesmen who are loyal to the opposition.

"Negotiations on the transfer of power are still going on," a senior opposition official said on condition of anonymity, explaining that he was not authorised to speak to the media.

"The main issue under discussion is that the president transfer power to the prime minister who will then form a national unity government led by the opposition."

The source said the opposition has also requested the formation of a transitional council that would represent all Yemen's political and religious groups while a new government is established.

In February, following widespread protests against the government’s lack of reform and allegations of corruption and human-rights abuses, Mr Saleh announced he would not seek re-election when his current term expired in 2013. This offer was rejected by the opposition.

Although Mr Saleh, under increasing domestic and international criticism, has claimed as recently as yesterday that he will remain in power, he has also hinted he would transfer power to “safe hands”.

The official said that among Mr Saleh’s conditions for leaving office are that some of his sons and nephews are allowed to retain their high-ranking military and security positions. Mr Saleh has also demanded, according to the source, that he and his family are guaranteed legal immunity to any sort of prosecution once they relinquish their 32-year hold on power.

A source close to Major General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar, a powerful military leader and one-time ally of Mr Saleh who joined the protests against the president, said that the proposal that Mr Saleh’s relatives remain in power has been rejected.

A security official said on condition of anonymity that the US and Europeans are keen that Mr Saleh’s relatives stay in their posts for several months so that the antiterrorism aspects of the positions can be transferred smoothly. Yemen is believed to be the base for several active al Qa’eda cells.

Yesterday’s talks with Mr Saleh were attended by General Mohsen, officials from various opposition groups, and western envoys including the US ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein. The Yemeni constitution states that if the presidency becomes vacant or the president becomes permanently disabled, the vice president takes over the presidential functions for a period that does not exceed 60 days, during which new elections for the presidency are to be held. But according to the opposition, this scenario is currently impossible.

“The vice-president [Abdu Raboo Mansur Hadi] has refused to take over even though the president would like him to. However, efforts are being made to convince the vice-president to assume power from Saleh,” the source said.

The negotiations come a day after Mr Saleh said in a defiant speech to tens of thousands of supporters he would never allow “corrupts and anarchists” to take control of the country.

Mr Saleh said he was ready to leave office but he did not trust the opposition, whom he called “drug dealers”.

Mr Saleh’s regime has been shaken by waves of defections from his allies in the army, cabinet, ruling party and the tribes. Many former allies withdrew support after at least 53 protesters were killed and hundreds wounded on March 18 when security forces fired on a peaceful opposition rally in Sana’a.

Discussion about a peaceful and immediate transfer of power began on Thursday between Mr Saleh and General Mohsen, but the two former confidantes failed to strike a deal.

malqadhi@thenational.ae

Published: March 27, 2011 04:00 AM

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