Sana’a: Yemen`s political opposition on Saturday presented the most detailed outline of how it hopes to see power change hands after nearly two months of protests that have weakened the longtime President but failed to drive him from office.
Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters hurled stones at riot police backed by tanks in the southern province of Aden on Saturday, and duelling rallies were held in the capital.
Daily protests demanding the President`s ouster have so far failed to bring an end to his 32-year rule over Yemen, a corner of the Arabian peninsula beset by poverty, conflict and a long list of other woes. Seizing on the example of Egypt and other uprisings, the protesters want to open up the country`s political system as a path toward a better life.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh`s crackdown has been so harsh that it has propelled some of his key allies — even his own tribe — over to the opposition camp. Still, he has refused to step down immediately, saying the country would sink into chaos without an orderly, negotiated transition.
Mohammed al-Sabri, a spokesman for Yemen`s opposition parties, said they also wanted a smooth transition. They presented a plan that asked Saleh to step down and hand over to his vice president.
Al-Sabri said the vice president could oversee a national dialogue that would advise on reforming the Constitution and planning for elections. Similar to Egypt, al-Sabri said Yemen should hold a referendum on a new Constitution before any voting.
"We want to achieve political freedom and to build a modern country that is federalised and has parliamentary rule," said the statement sent by al-Sabri.
The plan also called for leaders of the widely despised security apparatuses to step down and for investigations of those responsible for the killing and wounding of protesters.
Security forces have killed 92 protesters since the unrest began on February 12, according to the Shiqayiq Forum for Human Rights.
There was no immediate comment from Saleh`s spokespeople.
Reflecting the standoff between Saleh`s government and the protesters, both sides held demonstrations on Saturday in the capital, Sana’a.
Anti-government protesters staged huge rallies in northern districts. Government supporters, meanwhile, continued their overnight rally in another neighbourhood. Saleh appeared briefly toward the start of that rally on Friday, pledging to sacrifice his "blood and soul" for the sake of the Yemeni people.
In Aden, protesters set tires on fire, sending black smoke into the sky. They also built barricades with large rocks at the entrance of main roads to prevent tanks from moving. Stone-throwing clashes broke out with police.
Workers and students appeared to abide by calls for a general strike on Saturday in Aden and in Taiz, another southern city, witnesses said.
Yemen`s unrest is of great concern to the United States, in particular, because the country is home to al Qaea`s most active franchise. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has been behind several nearly successful plots to attack international targets, including sending bombs hidden in printer cartridges onto cargo planes and getting a would-be suicide bomber onto a Detroit-bound flight in December 2009.
On Friday, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Washington was concerned about the situation in Yemen but insisted counterterrorism cooperation was continuing between the two countries.
The US gives Saleh`s government financial and military aid for fighting al Qaeda and has provided training to some of his forces.
With so much at stake, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said a week ago that the fall of Saleh`s regime could pose a "real problem" for America.
Yemeni protesters said on Friday that the United States has taken "a shameful position" toward their movement and called on it to support the uprising and reject "dictatorship”.
The Organisational Committee for the Popular Youth Revolution, an umbrella group for the protesters, called on the US administration to stop security cooperation and financial aid to Saleh`s government.
It also sought to reassure Washington that a post-Saleh government would not take a different position on al Qaeda.
"The US administration should know that there is no place for al Qaeda and terrorism under a peaceful Yemeni people`s revolution which achieves peace and internal harmony," it said. "Yemen without Saleh, will be better."