Yemen opposition remains adamant that Saleh must leave office soon

Yemen's opposition continues to insist that President Ali Abdullah Saleh leave office soon and some protesters are saying they will not take part in any further talks brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Women walk near an armoured personnel carrier in the Yemeni city of Taiz Thursday. Yemen's opposition rejected an offer on Thursday to join Gulf-mediated talks in Saudi Arabia on a transfer of power for President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
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SANA'A // Yemen's opposition refused yesterday to budge on its demand that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down, with some in its ranks saying they would not take part in any further GCC-brokered talks in Saudi Arabia.

A prominent opposition leader, Mohammed al Mutawakkil, said the mediation offer, which was to include talks in Riyadh as early as tomorrow, was not clear enough on how fast a proposed transition would take place.

"We have renewed our emphasis on the need for speeding the process of [Mr Saleh] standing down within two weeks. Therefore we will not go to Riyadh," Mr al Mutawakkil told Reuters news agency.

However, Mohammed Kahtan, a spokesman for the opposition coalition known as Joint Meeting Parties, told The National that the opposition was still open to a Gulf Cooperation Council plan provided Mr Saleh resigned and transferred power to his deputy, Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi.

"We have welcomed the GCC mediation plan we received on April 3 ... and we are ready to take part in any talks on it. But we have sent a letter seeking clarifications on the GCC foreign ministers' statement on Sunday. We consider the immediate departure of the president as the key solution to Yemen's standoff," Mr Kahtan said.

The anti-Saleh protesters have called for massive protests today in what they call "Friday of Determination", while his loyalists have dubbed it a "Friday of Dialogue."

The GCC proposal urged Mr Saleh to cede power to his deputy and called for the creation of an opposition-led national unity government.

The plan did not specify a time frame for a transfer of power and included immunity for Mr Saleh and his family from prosecution for criminal charges that might be filed against them.

Mr Saleh accepted in principle the GCC plan but has not said when he would step down. Before the plan was tabled, he had promised to resign by the end of this year.

Sheikh Hamid al Ahmar, an influential tribal opposition politician and business tycoon, warned GCC officials yesterday that Mr Saleh had overstated security concerns in the country in a bid to buy time to stay in power.

"This man [Mr Saleh] is a source of trouble to you [GCC] and to Yemen and his stay in power has become very costly to Yemen," Sheikh al Ahmar said in in Sana'a.

"We have seen [the former Egyptian president] Mubarak put in jail and if we compare him to Saleh, he was an angel. But, this man who has been offered proposals of smooth exit is still manoeuvring. We have even accepted guarantees of immunity to prosecution for him and his family as an appreciation to our brothers in the GCC," Sheikh al Ahmar said.

"If the GCC fails, Ali Saleh would lose the last chance for an honourable exit."

The West has voiced concerns that the ouster of Mr Saleh, a US ally in the fight against terrorism, would encourage militancy. Sheikh al Ahmar, the first tribal figure to call for the overthrow of Mr Saleh in 2009, said the peaceful protests had contradicted the notion that the security situation would deteriorate if Mr Saleh was gone.

"Ali Saleh has manipulated the cards of the Houthi [rebels] in the north, the [secessionist] southern movement and al Qa'eda. However, all these cards have been burnt. The Houthis have left their guns behind and joined the peaceful protests; the southern people have also demonstrated the same national sentiments to unity and joined the protests demanding change of the regime. As for al Qa'eda, it has become clear it was used for personal interests," Sheikh al Ahmar said.