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EXCLUSIVE: Yemen's Saleh 'to step down within 90 days'

In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24 on Monday, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he intended to step down within 90 days of reaching a deal on a power transfer plan that aims to end the nine-month-old crisis in his country.


Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Monday he would step down from power no later than 90 days after a transition deal was reached with the opposition. In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24, Saleh said the timetable for his departure had been decided, but it depended on agreement of the UN-backed Gulf initiative.

"When the Gulf initiative is agreed upon and signed and when a time frame is set for its implementation, and elections take place, the president will leave,” Saleh told France 24 journalist Abdelhakim Zemouche in an interview in Sana’a. Asked if there was a set date for his departure, the Yemeni president said “The timetable has been decided, 90 days [of an agreement].”

Saleh, who previously refused to sign the deal proposed by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), said he had given power to his vice-president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to negotiate a deal with the opposition on the formation of a transitional government and organising future presidential elections.

Saleh told FRANCE 24 he has "never refused to sign [the Gulf initiative]" but wanted to "read it and work on a mechanism" to implement it.

“I already wanted to leave power in 2006,” Saleh said, citing “exceptional circumstances” that forced him to remain as the head of state. “I have been in power for more than 33 years in Yemen. I’ve overcome lots of problems, there’s been fascinating moments. But as far as I’m concerned anyone that hangs onto power is a madman.”

In April the GCC put forth a plan under which President Ali Abdullah Saleh would relinquish power to Hadi in return for immunity from prosecution for himself and members of his family. Under the deal Hadi would lead a two-year transitional government.

The interim period would see the formation of a reconciliation government, restructuring of military bodies and drafting of a constitution, according to Yassin Saeed Noman, head of the Common Forum that groups parliamentary opposition parties, the AFP news agency reported.

The government in Sana’a was rocked by an unprecedented popular revolt starting in January, which has degenerated into battles between rival troops and tribesmen. The longtime president, considered an ally by the United States, has since come under global pressure to step down.

Dismissing Arab revolts

Saleh defended his record and continued to insist that he has clung to power in order to fight off the threat of regional and international Islamic terrorism. “We have overwhelming evidence that the opposition is working with al Qaeda,” Saleh told FRANCE 24.

He also discredited the Arab revolts in neighbouring countries, claiming the movements were backed by "small states" in the region that lacked influence and were vying to assert themselves.

“These countries are sending troublemakers and mercenaries of all kinds. In reality these countries are not supporting Arab revolutionaries. They are seeking to undermine the Arab regimes and their interference is undermining national unity that is fuelling chaos in the region,” Saleh said.

The remarks were apparently made in reference to Qatar, a wealthy Gulf Arab state and home to the Al Jazeera news organisation, which have widely covered the Arab Spring uprisings that began in Tunisia.

Asked about the overthrow and death of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Saleh said he had been “moved” by images of his death at the hands of Libyan fighters. “I didn’t like the way he died, but that was his fate,” the Yemeni leader said.

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