Yemen`s Saleh cool on Gulf exit plan

Yemen`s embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Friday gave a cool response to a Gulf plan for him to quit, even as massive crowds returned to the streets to demand his immediate ouster.

Last Updated: Apr 23, 2011, 00:08 AM IST

Sanaa: Yemen`s embattled President Ali
Abdullah Saleh on Friday gave a cool response to a Gulf plan for
him to quit, even as massive crowds returned to the streets to
demand his immediate ouster.

While tens of thousands of anti- and pro-Saleh
demonstrators packed two different locations in Sanaa,
suspected al Qaeda militants and tribesmen gunned down 13
soldiers in separate attacks in the eastern Marib province.

Another soldier was shot dead by unknown gunmen in
the restive southern province of Abyan.

"We stress that we will hold on to the
constitutional legitimacy, in loyalty to our people, as we
categorically reject the attempted coups on freedom,
democracy, and political pluralism," Saleh told regime
supporters in Sanaa.

In a cool reaction to a Gulf plan for him to step
down within 30 days, Saleh said he welcomed the initiative but
only "within the framework of the constitution," signalling he
could try to serve out his term until 2013.

As on past Fridays, a huge rival rally by
anti-regime protesters massed a few kilometres (miles) away
kept up the pressure for Saleh`s immediate departure on what
they branded a "Last Chance Friday."

A news agency correspondent said the gathering covered a
four-kilometre stretch, in what appeared to be the largest
anti-Saleh rally since protests erupted in late January.

Yemeni army and police were deployed in force to
prevent clashes between the two camps.

In the latest version of the Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC) initiative, the president would submit his
resignation to parliament within 30 days, with a presidential
vote to be held within two months.

Parliamentary opposition groups are still mulling
the plan, but the spokesman of the Common Forum coalition said
that "forming a national unity government while the president
is still in office is not accepted."

"The president`s departure is essential to any
solution," he told said to a news agency.

Protesters on the streets on Friday dismissed the
proposal out of hand.

"Neighbouring countries: no negotiations, no
dialogue," read posters carried by demonstrators, referring to
the plan under which Saleh would hand over power to his
deputy, Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.

"No initiative no initiative, you should only leave
(Saleh)," chanted a group gathered near Hadi`s residence.

A motor of the revolt, the "Peaceful Revolt Youth,"
on Friday renewed its rejection of the GCC initiative.

The cause was that the proposal does not call for
Saleh`s immediate departure and grants immunity from
prosecution to the president, family and aides, "who are all
killers," it said in a statement.

The group called for a nationwide general strike
tomorrow. Anti-Saleh protesters also rallied across Yemen
today, as a Muslim cleric leading weekly prayers in the
flashpoint city of Taez also said the GCC initiative was
unacceptable.

Thousands marched in the main southern city of Aden
demanding Saleh`s immediate ouster. They chanted: "Ali you
villain, our blood isn`t cheap" and "Ali! go."

"We refuse any Gulf or international initiatives,"
read one banner, witnesses said.

Similar protests were also held in Lahij, Hadramut
and Shabwa, in the south, witnesses said.

Saleh has since January faced anti-regime protests
calling for his ouster in which more than 130 people have been
killed in clashes with security forces and rival
demonstrators.

An emailed statement from Yemen`s embassy in
Washington said on Thursday that GCC chief Abdullatif
al-Zayani had presented the latest proposal to Saleh and the
opposition, with his ruling party expected to respond within
24 hours.

A defiant Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 32 years,
publicly insists on sticking to the constitution in any
transfer of power.

Amid the political turmoil, armed tribesmen and
suspected al Qaeda militants killed 20 soldiers, and captured
dozens of others in separate attacks over a 24-hour period,
security and tribal sources said. Two tribesmen were also
killed.

PTI