UN envoy to make new push for Yemen power transfer


A UN envoy returned to Yemen on Thursday in a fresh bid to persuade Ali Abdullah Saleh to hand over power under a Gulf-brokered peace plan, following reports the president is inching towards accepting the proposal. Officials said Jamal Benomar would meet Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has been mandated by Saleh to negotiate details of the handover deal with an alliance of opposition parties and sign it.
Benomar would also meet opposition leaders as part of the effort to implement the proposal brokered by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council in April to end protests by Yemeni demanding that Saleh step down after 33 years in office. “We are waiting for the leaders of the opposition and Benomar to arrive in Sanaa tomorrow (Thursday) to resume discussions on details of the Gulf initiative so it can be signed,” the head of the information department at the ruling General People’s Congress party, Tareq al-Shami, told Reuters.
Yemen has been rocked by months of protests that have put one of the poorest countries in the Arab world on the brink of civil war, a situation that could threaten the stability of neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter. Opposition sources said Saleh, under the Gulf plan, would issue a decree handing over all powers to Hadi. The vice president would then sign the Gulf initiative and name an opposition politician to form a new national unity government that would start preparing for early elections.
If Benomar’s mission is successful, the accord is expected to be signed in a ceremony in Saudi Arabia by mid-November, Yemeni officials said.
Benomar’s trip comes after France said the European Union planned to discuss freezing Saleh’s assets. The U.N. Security Council has unanimously condemned Yemen’s crackdown on protesters and urged Saleh to sign the Gulf-brokered peace deal.
Saleh has backed away three times in the past from signing the Gulf plan, adding conditions including remaining president until a new head of state was elected, according to officials. But Saleh has recently said he has dropped such conditions and intends to leave office once the peace plan is signed.
The opposition has repeatedly accused Saleh of playing for time as tensions soar in the capital Sanaa and nearby Taez while the impoverished country’s economy heads towards total collapse. “We cannot say there is real progress regarding any transfer of power until the Gulf initiative has been signed,” Houriya Mashhour, of the opposition’s National Council of the Revolution, said.
Meanwhile, one man was killed and several were wounded in the flashpoint city of Taez and the capital Sanaa as protesters took to the streets calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to face international justice. “One man was killed and five others were wounded,” said a medical official in Taez, Yemen’s second city. Witnesses said Republican Guard troops, commanded by Saleh’s son Ahmed, fired artillery rounds into the centre of Taez where tens of thousands of protesters were calling for the veteran leader’s prosecution.
Meanwhile, armed civilians opened fire on a similar demonstration in Sanaa, wounding three people, witnesses and medics there said.
“No immunity, no guarantee, Saleh must be tried with his regime,” chanted the protesters as they marched on central Sanaa. “World, UN Security Council: Saleh is a war criminal.”
The protesters were met with live rounds fired on them from a building as they neared the capital’s centre, witnesses told AFP.