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Middle east

Killing of protesters mars power transfer agreement

Video by Yuka ROYER

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-11-25

Gunmen loyal to Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh opened fire on protesters on Thursday killing at least four. The deadly violence comes just a day after Saleh agreed to step down in the wake of months of unrest.

AFP - Loyalists of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh shot dead at least four people in the capital Sanaa on 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.

"Four 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.

An AFP 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.

Hostages released in Yemen

Three red cross workers, including a French national, have been released in Yemen  after being abducted earlier this week by armed men, Reuters news agency has reported.

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 Wednesday'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.

Wednesday'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 told AFP.

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.

"For 10 months, the Yemeni people have courageously and steadfastly voiced their demands for change in cities across Yemen in the face of violence and extreme hardship," said US President Barack Obama.

"Today's agreement brings them a significant step closer to realising their aspirations for a new beginning in Yemen," he said.

"The United States urges all parties to move immediately to implement the terms of the agreement, which will allow Yemen to begin addressing an array of formidable challenges and chart a more secure and prosperous path for the future."

His comments were echoed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"We urge all parties within Yemen to refrain from violence and to move swiftly to implement the terms of the agreement in good faith and with transparency -- including credible presidential elections within 90 days," she said.

Saleh's long equivocation over signing the Gulf transition deal saw the protests slide into deadly clashes between loyalist and dissident troops that have riven the capital and left the armed forces deeply divided.

Saleh's son Ahmed commands the Republican Guards, his nephew Yehya heads the central security services, and Tariq, another nephew, controls the presidential guard.

But two major army divisions -- one in Sanaa and one in Yemen's second-largest city Taez -- rallied to the opposition and have fought repeated battles against Saleh's loyalists leaving scores dead.

Hadi is charged with forming a committee to oversee their restructuring in the first three months of the agreement.

Date created : 2011-11-24

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