New Yemen deaths cast pall over Saleh exit deal

Under yesterday’s deal, Saleh is to hand his powers over immediately to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.

Last Updated: Nov 24, 2011, 21:07 PM IST

Sanaa: Loyalists of Yemeni President Ali
Abdullah Saleh shot dead at least five people in the capital
Sanaa ton Thursday casting a pall over a hard-won deal for his
departure after 33 years in power.

The shooting by gunmen in plain clothes came as tens of
thousands gathered for a mass protest against promises of
immunity from prosecution for him and his family under the
UN-backed agreement with the parliamentary opposition.

"Five people have been killed by live rounds" and others
27 wounded, said a medic at a field hospital set up protesters
in Sanaa`s Change Square, where they have been camped out
since February.

A correspondent said the protesters were fired upon
by gunmen whom they deride as Saleh`s "thugs", as they marched
towards the city centre.

Activists who have spearheaded 10 months of protests
against Saleh`s rule had called for a huge rally to protest
against the promises of immunity granted under the agreement
which the veteran leader finally signed in Riyadh on Wednesday
after months of prevarication.

The protesters also chanted slogans against the Common
Forum parliamentary opposition bloc led by the Islamist
Al-Islah (reform) party which first signed in April the plan
drawn up by impoverished Yemen`s wealthy Gulf neighbours.

"Common Forum, Islah, leave after the assailant," they
shouted, referring to Saleh, who is expected to go straight
from the Saudi capital to New York for medical treatment.

The 69-year-old sustained serious blast wounds in a
June bombing of his residence for which he has already
received extensive treatment in Saudi Arabia.

Under yesterday’s deal, Saleh is to hand his powers
over immediately to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi and
hold office on an honorary basis only for the coming 90 days.

But the youths, who have been the driving force of the
protest movement in the face of a bloody crackdown that has
left hundreds dead since January, demanded Saleh and his
family face prosecution and that the whole regime step down.

"We will stage a million-man march today to reject the
guarantees given to Saleh," said Walid al-Ammari, a spokesman
for the youth activists.

Ammari said Saleh`s agreement to hand his powers to
the vice president made no difference to the reality of the
regime.

"We will continue until we have toppled the rest of
the regime," he said. "We did not start a revolution to keep
half of the killers."

Hadi, Yemen`s low-profile vice president for the past
17 years, is "just another arm of Saleh," Ammari added.

Yesterday`s agreement provides for Hadi to assume "all
powers necessary... for organising early elections within a
90-day period."

The opposition is to nominate a candidate to head a
government of national unity, that will be charged with
holding talks with the youth activists.

But opposition leaders made no secret of their doubts
over whether the activists would give up their struggle.

"People will not go back to their homes until the
honorary term ends" and Saleh finally quits office in 90 days,
Common Forum spokesman Mohammed Qahtan said.

World leaders had called on both sides in Yemen`s
protracted power struggle to seize on the opportunity of the
Riyadh agreement to end the bloodshed.

PTI