JNN 26 Mar 2011 : A deal to transfer power peacefully in Yemen could emerge shortly based on an offer by President Ali Abdullah Saleh to quit by the end of the year, Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi told Reuters.
But Al Arabiya television later quoted Saleh as saying that while he was prepared to step down “with respect” even within hours in response to relentless popular unrest, a deal did not appear imminent since his opponents had hardened their demands.
Yemen, a poor and tribally divided country that has become a base for al Qaeda next to the world’s top oil producer Saudi Arabia, has been in upheaval since January when the example of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions set off popular demonstrations to end Saleh’s 32-year authoritarian rule.
“I hope it (agreement) will be today, before tomorrow,” Qirbi told Reuters in an interview, adding that the time frame of a transfer of power could be negotiated.
Saleh, who oversaw the 1990 unification of north and south Yemen and emerged victorious from a civil war four years later, told tribes in Sanaa on Saturday that he would “work to avoid bloodshed using all possible means.”
“We are exerting all efforts for dialogue and we hope wise people will respond to this call for dialogue to preserve the country and its stability and unity,” he told the gathering.
He said on Friday he was ready to cede power to forestall more bloodshed but only to what he called “safe hands.”
“President Saleh is willing to look at all possibilities, as long as there are really serious commitments by the JMP (opposition) to come and initiate a serious dialogue between them and the ruling party,” Qirbi said.
But an opposition leader cast doubt on prospects for a swift accord and a Sanaa diplomat cautioned it was too soon to discuss an outcome, saying it could “go either way.”
Talks have been under way on two tracks to hash out the details of a deal on a peaceful transition of power in the Arabian Peninsula state that is home to a resurgent arm of al Qaeda, Yemeni political sources have said.
Qirbi said Yemen’s main opposition party would be holding talks with the ruling party on Saturday. Discussions were centering on the time frame of a transition, among other issues.
“I think the time period is something that can be negotiated. It shouldn’t be really an obstacle to reach an agreement,” he said.
“I think things are very close if the real intention is really to reach an agreement. But if there are parties who want to obstruct it then of course one cannot predict.”
Another big issue is the future of Mr Saleh’s relatives, some of whom hold powerful government posts, our correspondent says.
Two relatives who are particularly unpopular with the protesters are:
• the president’s son Ahmed, who is in charge of the Republican Guard
• his nephew and son-in-law Yahia Saleh, who heads the security forces.
Mr Saleh’s ruling party, General People’s Congress, said on Saturday that he should serve out his term until 2013, AFP news agency reported.
Yemen, the Arab world’s most impoverished nation, is a key ally in the US-led fight against al-Qaeda, which has established a strong presence there.
Two recent bomb plots against US targets – two American cargo planes in October and a Detroit-bound airliner in December 2009 – originated in Yemen.
OPPOSITION SAYS DIFFERENCES REMAIN
Saleh has responded to the mass protests with a violent crackdown and a string of concessions, all rebuffed by opposition parties, including one this week to transfer power after the drafting of a new constitution and parliamentary and presidential elections by the end of the year.
- President Ali Abdullah Saleh in power since 1978
- Population 24.3m; land area 536,869 sq km
- The population has a median age of 17.9, and a literacy rate of 61%
- Youth unemployment is 15%
- Gross national income per head was $1,060 (£655) in 2009 (World Bank)