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Wednesday, March 2,2011

Yemeni leader agrees to plan for his resignation

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

SANAA, Yemen — Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has tentatively agreed to a five-point plan from opposition leaders that includes the demand that the man who has ruled this troubled nation for more than three decades step down by the end of the year, according the president's office.

Opposition figures and Saleh have reached "an initial agreement," said presidential spokesman Mohammed al-Basha. It is unclear, however, if Saleh, who was meeting with opposition leaders Wednesday night, would attempt to modify the proposal in order to remain in office until presidential elections in 2013.

Saleh's departure would dramatically alter Yemen's political landscape. The country has been struggling with a secessionist movement in the south, rebels in the north and an active al-Qaida network. The U.S. has long been concerned about Islamic militants exploiting a political vacuum in a country dominated by tribes and plagued by corruption, poverty and malnutrition.

It is uncertain if Saleh leaving his post in nine months would calm tens of thousands of protesters who for weeks have been calling for his immediate overthrow. The president has already made a number of concessions, including a promise that he would not seek re-election, that his son would not succeed him, and that he would stem widespread government corruption.

Saleh has broken similar promises in the past, and his assurances have largely fallen on deaf ears. But he is under increasing strain as tribes, religious leaders, students, workers and others have not relented in pressuring him to resign.

The opposition plan would also require that Saleh take indirect responsibility for the deaths of 27 protesters killed by security forces and government loyalists over the past three weeks, although he has repeatedly scoffed at making such an admission.

The five-point plan calls for a peaceful transition of power in the next nine months and stipulates that all Yemenis, both inside and outside of the country, should be involved in discussions to form a new government. It also ensures that all Yemenis are free to protest peacefully, that a committee should be formed to investigate the attacks against protesters in recent weeks, and that the families of those protesters who died will be compensated by the government.

The president offered a conciliatory gesture to the opposition Monday that called for a power-sharing government until the presidential elections. The opposition rejected that proposal, saying any feasible road map for a peaceful transition of power must require that the president step down immediately.

Wednesday's opposition plan, however, sidestepped that demand, a move that may hurt its support among protesters.

"I think it's a big mistake," said Khaled Anesi, a human rights lawyer involved in the protests. "The opposition will lose the people on the street, who will not be satisfied until Saleh announces he will step down from power. The opposition will kill its future."

Ahmed Fahkil, a Sanaa University student, was upset too. "Haven't we suffered long enough? We can't begin to build a new democracy while he is still at the head of the regime," he said. "We are the ones out here in the sun, not the opposition. Saleh must listen to us."

In Washington, meanwhile, the White House released a statement saying Saleh had called John Brennan, an assistant to President Barack Obama, on Wednesday morning "to convey his regret for misunderstandings related to his public remarks that Israel and the United States have engaged in destabilizing activities in Arab countries."

Saleh, who has been assisting U.S. officials in the war against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, had given a fiery speech Tuesday blaming the U.S. and Israel for the turmoil in the Arab world and saying that the anti-government protests in his nation were being "run by the White House."

"Mr. Brennan expressed appreciation for the call," the White House statement read, "and said that any comments that seek to attribute blame for recent developments in the region are unhelpful, as they ignore the legitimate aspirations of people in the Arab world."


(c) 2011, Los Angeles Times.

Visit the Los Angeles Times on the Internet at http://www.latimes.com/.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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