Yemen's President Saleh signs power transfer deal

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has reportedly authorised his deputy to negotiate a power transfer with the opposition, bowing to pressure from regional powers. Saleh has been absent from the country since June.


AFP - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has authorised his deputy to negotiate a power transfer with the opposition, the state news agency SABA said Monday, finally agreeing to a proposal by Gulf countries to put an end to a months-long political crisis.

Saleh, who has been absent from the country for more than three months, "has given the vice president Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi the necessary constitutional authority to negotiate" the power transfer mechanism with the opposition, SABA said.

The presidential decree authorises Hadi to sign on Saleh's behalf the so-called Gulf Initiative, which was proposed by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and sets the path for a peaceful transition of power out of Saleh's hands.

Hadi can "agree on a time-frame... and sign" the agreement, according to the decree.

Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978 and has been recovering in Saudi Arabia from a June 3 attack on his presidential compound, also authorised Hadi to begin preparations for early presidential elections to be carried out under regional and international supervision.

No date for the elections has so far been set. Saleh's current presidential term ends in 2013.

Saleh's party, the General People's Congress (GPC), asked last week to delegate some of its prerogatives to Hadi to negotiate with the opposition.

Shortly after the announcement of the decree, the spokesman for Yemen's parliamentary opposition rejected Saleh's move as a mere delay tactic.

"If he was serious he would have signed the initiative himself, or at least given his deputy the authority to sign it immediately," said Mohammed Qahtan, the spokesman for the Common Forum, a coalition of six political parties that signed the GCC initiative in April.

Since his departure three months ago, Saleh has refused to hand over power to his deputy or sign the Gulf Initiative. His refusal had angered the plan's Gulf sponsors who, along with many in the international community, fear that a total melt-down of political order in Yemen could pave the way for Al-Qaeda linked militants to overrun the country.

The GCC plan, proposed last spring, calls on Saleh to step down as president of Yemen and hand over all constitutional authorities to the vice president. In exchange, Saleh would receive amnesty from prosecution for himself and his family.

In recent weeks, the United Nations intervened to break the political deadlock and proposed a "road map" for implementing the Gulf initiative, but its efforts failed.

The political stalemate has continued for months alongside widespread anti-government protests that erupted in January, taking an already impoverished country to the brink of total chaos.

Since May, the southern province of Abyan has been the focus of violence with Al-Qaeda-linked militants battling the Yemeni army for control. The militants managed to seize control of three towns, including the capital Zinjibar.

On Sunday, the government declared that its troops "liberated" Zinjibar and rescued a brigade that had been trapped there since May. But officials, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, have confirmed that the military recaptured only the eastern and northern parts of the city and that the clashes are ongoing.

In recent days, tensions have escalated in Yemen's capital Sanaa where government troops fortified their positions while soldiers, loyal to dissident general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, also deployed in areas of the city they now control.

Al-Ahmar, the most prominent general to defect in support of the protesters, has accused Saleh and his loyalists of stoking all out war in Yemen.

"Without a doubt, Saleh and the remaining elements of the regime want to drag us into a war in a desperate attempt to cling to power," he said in an interview published Monday in the Al-Khaleej daily in the United Arab Emirates.

The rampant chaos and violence that has plagued Yemen in recent months has taken a dramatic toll on the civilian population. The UN warned in July of a looming humanitarian disaster if the violence is not stopped and the political deadlock is not resolved.


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