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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

US presses Saleh to hand over power in Yemen as British military assets deployed nearby

The White House called late Monday for an “immediate transition” of power in Yemen, where the United States fears Al Qaeda could exploit political turmoil and strengthen its presence, as Britain confirmed the deployment of military assets near the embattled nation.

After four months of deadly unrest, Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year-old regime was teetering even before the president was wounded in an attack on his palace and flown late Saturday to neighboring Saudi Arabia for treatment.


“We believe that an immediate transition is in the best interests of the people and the best interest of maintaining stability in obviously a very unstable situation,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Many Yemenis say they have tolerated enough from Ali Saleh’s regime.(File photo)
Many Yemenis say they have tolerated enough from Ali Saleh’s regime.(File photo)
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of the United States, speaking alongside French counterpart Alain Juppe at a Washington press conference, made it clear President Saleh should leave power but stopped short of expressly ordering him to do so, according to Agence-France Presse.

“The civilian government remains in power in Yemen. The vice president is currently serving as the acting president,” said Mrs. Clinton, adding that US embassy staff were meeting with “a broad cross-section of Yemeni officials as well as civil society to try to better assess what this means to the country.”

“Obviously, I can’t speculate on what President Saleh is going to do or say, but we do want to emphasize we're calling for a peaceful and orderly transition, a non-violent transition that is consistent with Yemen’s own constitution,” she said.

“We think an immediate transition is in the best interest of the Yemeni people, because the instability and lack of security currently afflicting Yemen cannot be addressed until there is some process that everyone knows is going to lead to the sort of economic and political reforms that they are seeking,” she said.

Washington supports a deal, brokered by the regional Gulf Cooperation Council bloc that would see Mr. Saleh cede power to an interim administration within 30 days, in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Mr. Saleh, a wily operator who since 1978 has bought off tribal loyalties and stitched them together into a governable framework, has refused to sign the accord and warned that his ouster would only serve to boost Al Qaeda.

“Our position is that we support the agreement that President Saleh had talked about signing several times and didn't,” Mr. Carney said.

“We want a peaceful and orderly transition that’s consistent with the Yemeni constitutional process. Our position hasn’t changed.”

A top aide said Monday that 65-year-old Saleh, who was recuperating in a Riyadh military hospital, planned to return within days, a move likely to set off another round of unrest in the violence-plagued nation of 24 million people.

It is Mr. Saleh's decision

President Saleh is a perennial survivor who has stayed in power for 32 years
President Saleh is a perennial survivor who has stayed in power for 32 years
Saudi officials insist they will not interfere with Mr. Saleh’s decision to return to Yemen or stay in the kingdom, but behind the scenes the United States and Europe are likely to be pressing the Saudis to ensure President Saleh’s stay becomes permanent, according to Reuters.

“The Saudis will seize the opportunity ... to extend his medical recovery into a political rest,” said Yemen expert Khaled Fattah. The risk of Yemen descending into Somalia-style anarchy was “a nightmare for Saudi national security.”

In Sana’a, a fragile truce held despite a deadly sniper attack on loyalists of a powerful tribal chief blamed for Friday’s bomb attack which wounded Mr. Saleh as he prayed inside a mosque in his compound, according to AFP.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Yemen’s capital on Sunday to cheer what they said was the end of Saleh’s regime.

There was fresh fighting in the southern city of Taez, and also in the southern province of Abyan, where armed men killed seven soldiers and wounded 12 others in clashes in Zinjibar on Monday, a local official and witnesses said, according to Reuters.

An army force had tried to storm the town of 20,000. Last month, dozens of armed men believed to be from Al Qaeda stormed into Zinjibar, chasing out security forces.

The situation presents US partner Saudi Arabia and Washington with a conundrum as President Saleh has been a key ally in the fight against Al Qaeda’s Yemen-based franchise, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

AQAP has claimed several attacks against the United States and other Western interests.

The group was linked to the “underwear bomber”—a young Nigerian who allegedly tried to blow up a packed transatlantic airliner as it landed in Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

It was also blamed for the more recent parcel bomb plot, involving sophisticated explosive devices hidden in printer inkjet cartridges and sent via air freight to Jewish addresses in the United States.

Deployment of military assets

 We think an immediate transition is in the best interest of the Yemeni people, because the instability and lack of security currently afflicting Yemen cannot be addressed until there is some process that everyone knows is going to lead to the sort of economic and political reforms that they are seeking 
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Britain on Monday confirmed the deployment of military assets near Yemen but did not verify reports that ships were on standby in the Gulf to evacuate its nationals.

“As part of routine deployment UK military assets are in the region, although we are not prepared to comment further on their exact operational tasking,” a Ministry of Defense (MoD) spokesman said.

Around 80 marines were on board naval support ship RFA Fort Victoria, according to the BBC, while Sky News reported that the RFA Argus was also in the area.

The MoD would not confirm whether an evacuation was planned and repeated Foreign Secretary William Hague’s plea for all British nationals to leave Yemen immediately by commercial means.

In a statement delivered on Friday, Mr. Hague said it was “extremely unlikely” the British government would be able to evacuate its nationals given the volatile situation, AFP reported.

Britain first advised nationals to leave on March 12, and a dramatic escalation of hostilities led Mr. Hague to issue Friday’s strongly-worded warning.

In a joint statement on Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, and the Prime Ministers of Britain, Spain and Italy, thanked Saudi Arabia for receiving Mr. Saleh for treatment, and called on all parties in Yemen to “find a means of reconciliation on the basis of the GCC initiative,” according to Reuters.

Yemen, which relies on oil for 60 percent of its economy, has been dealt a heavy blow by the closure of an oil pipeline that trade sources said has caused a fuel shortages.

But the future of Yemen, dominated by rivalries among tribal leaders, generals and politicians, remains uncertain.

(Abeer Tayel, a senior editor at Al Arabiya

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