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Published: Monday, 4/25/2011

YEMEN

Resignation deal rejected by Saleh foes

BLADE NEWS SERVICES
An anti-government protester is carried on others’ shoulders in a crowd in the capital demanding the immediate resignation of Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. An anti-government protester is carried on others’ shoulders in a crowd in the capital demanding the immediate resignation of Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
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SANA’A, Yemen — A political deal for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to relinquish power within 30 days failed to persuade thousands of anti-government protesters across the nation Sunday to reel in their banners, fold up their camps, and go home.

“We’re not leaving,” said Hassan Luqman, a protest organizer who sat inside a tent in the capital, Sana’a, surfing the Internet while planning more rallies against Mr. Saleh’s autocratic 32-year rule. “We know our struggle won’t end anytime soon.”

A tentative agreement reached a day earlier between leading political opponents and Mr. Saleh’s ruling party calls for the president to step down within 30 days in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Diplomats called the plan a move toward ending two months of turmoil and bloodshed, but the deal fell short of the demand by hundreds of thousands that Mr. Saleh resign immediately.

The street protesters are a potent force — much as their counterparts were in Tunisia and Egypt.

They are suspicious of political parties and fear that compromising their demands would weaken their movement and give Mr. Saleh a chance to regain momentum and possibly stay in power.

“President Saleh has in the past agreed to initiatives and he went back on his word,” said Khaled al-Ansi, one of the youth leaders organizing the street protests. “We have no reason to believe that he would not do this again.”

Mr. Saleh struck a defiant tone Sunday.

“We are going to stick to constitutional legitimacy. We won’t accept ‘constructive chaos,’” he told BBC Arabic television, using language that some fear means he intends to see out his presidential term to September, 2013.

“Who should I hand power over to? Insurrectionists?”

The protesters now find themselves caught in international politics.

Yemen’s official opposition bloc, strongly represented in the protests but by no means its voice, conditionally accepted a deal mediated by the Gulf Cooperation Council for Mr. Saleh to form a unity government and step down within 30 days. After that, elections would be scheduled.

The proposal “requires all parties to withdraw instigators of political and security tensions,” according to the document.

Ruling-party officials have interpreted the clause to mean that protests and sit-ins around the country must stop before a unity government begins its work.

Opposition leaders regard the “instigators” to be pro-government gunmen, who have killed scores of peaceful protesters since February.

The opposition’s larger problem, though, is not being able to control protesters.

What started two months ago as a seemingly hopeless campaign by 60 Sana’a University students to camp at the campus gates until Mr. Saleh stepped down has turned into a movement that encompasses every major sector of society — the tiny middle class, tribal sheiks, army generals, and Islamic insurgents.

“It is their right to reject it,” Abdul Wahab Anisi, a leader of the opposition Islah party, said of the protesters’ reaction to the deal.

Immunity for the president on charges of corruption and killing protesters, a key part of the Gulf Cooperation Council proposal, is an affront to anti-government demonstrators, who have seen others in their ranks beaten and shot by security forces loyal to Mr. Saleh’s family.

More than 120 people have died in protests that have shaken an impoverished country struggling with a secessionist movement and an active al-Qaeda affiliate.

“If he weren’t corrupt, and he weren’t responsible for these awful crimes against the Yemeni people, then why would he want immunity so badly?” said Waleed Ammari, a protest organizer. “We want him to leave the country so he can’t provoke more trouble. Then perhaps he can come back and face trial.”

The protesters are calling for more demonstrations.

In response, the government signaled it would not agree to any adjustments in the Gulf proposal, with a statement on the official SABA news agency saying the initiative must be implemented in its entirety.

That raised the prospect that Mr. Saleh was counting on the opposition to reject the deal and only agreed to it to make them look like the spoilers.

The United States has watched the uprising with concern as Mr. Saleh has been an ally in fighting al-Qaeda. Washington is now backing a transition of power to end the crisis and over the weekend urged all parties in Yemen “to move swiftly to implement” a deal transferring power.



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