Yemen's Saleh wants global guarantees

2011-10-19 22:45

Sana'a - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Wednesday he would sign a Gulf peace deal calling for a transfer of power only if the United States, Europe and Gulf Arab states gave him unspecified guarantees.

Violence in Yemen, where thousands have been demonstrating for months demanding that Saleh end his 33 years in power, has spiked since he returned from Saudi Arabia in September after treatment for injuries sustained in an assassination attempt.

Saleh already has backed down three times from signing the Gulf initiative, and says he will only hand over power to "safe hands".

"Now that the president has returned, they say there is no need for the vice president to sign. Fine, I am ready to sign," Saleh told a meeting of party leaders in the capital Sana'a broadcast on state television.

"But provide guarantees to implement this initiative. We want Gulf guarantees, first, second, European guarantees and third American guarantees," he added.

The Gulf initiative provides for him to hand over power to his deputy to prepare for elections.

"These three guarantees must accompany the Gulf initiative," Saleh said.

Saleh's comments came after the five permanent members of the UN Security Council circulated a draft resolution to the full 15-nation body urging the swift signing and implementation of an agreement "on the basis of" the Gulf Arab plan, under which Saleh would be immune from prosecution.

Western Security Council diplomats denied that the draft resolution was an endorsement of the Gulf Co-operation Council initiative, although one envoy said the GCC deal is "the only game in town".

Next week

The draft resolution, obtained by Reuters, would have the Security Council say it "stresses that all those responsible for violence, human rights violations and abuses should be held accountable." It did not give any details on how accountability would be achieved.

Council diplomats said privately that they hoped the resolution would be voted on and approved next week.

Yemeni Nobel peace laureate Tawakul Karman made an impassioned plea to the United Nations on Tuesday to reject the Gulf Arab plan that would grant immunity to Saleh, calling the president a war criminal.

She said she plans to emphasize that point in a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later on Wednesday. Ban's spokesperson said on Tuesday that there should be "no impunity" for rights violations in Yemen.

Referring to the dismantling of now-deceased Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's Baath party after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Saleh said the world has been pushing him to sign the Gulf accord without any assurances on the fate of members of his administration.

"They say sign without any conditions and then we will look into the mechanism of the timing," Saleh said. "First, you must show your goodwill, and then we are willing to sign the initiative," he added.

The Yemeni protests are one of a series of "Arab Spring" uprisings that have already toppled long-serving rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

The United States fears that the Yemen protests might let Islamist militants linked to al-Qaeda expand their control in the poorest country in the Arab world, which has a long and porous border with Saudi Arabia.

Daily clashes

Dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who had broken away from the Yemeni government army and sided with the protesters, has said that nearly 200 people have died since Saleh's return on September 23.

In the past three days, at least 26 people died in almost daily clashes between Saleh's troops and forces loyal to al-Ahmar and a tribal leader allied with the protesters.

Saleh blames the opposition for the violence.

In the latest violence, Yemeni tribesmen blew up an oil pipeline used to carry crude from the Maarib Province in central Yemen to Ras Isa port on the Red Sea, a government official said, the fifth attack on the pipeline in a month.

In south Yemen, an unidentified assailant threw a grenade into a crowded market place of a town on Wednesday, killing two people and wounding 11, witnesses and doctors said.

The attacker fled the scene in the town of al-Habilayn in Lahej province, where central government control has been weakened by the protest.