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Yemen opposition hands Saleh transition road map

Young activists still calling for immediate change.

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March 2, 2011 4:10 by



Yemen’s opposition presented President Ali Abdullah Saleh with a road map on Wednesday for a smooth transition of power this year, offering him a graceful exit as street pressure grew for him to step down now.

However, illustrating the potential for rifts among his diverse opponents, young activists who have taken the lead in ever-swelling street protests demanded immediate change in the Arabian Peninsula state.

“Get out. Get out. Get out,” protesters chanted near Sanaa University, where once-small student-led protests have grown into daily rallies of 10,000 or more. “No negotiation and no dialogue until the regime leaves.”

The opposition which, just two days ago, had said it would not retreat from demands that Saleh leave power immediately, agreed with religious and tribal leaders to ask him to take steps towards a transition.

These included changing the constitution, rewriting election laws and removing his relatives from leadership positions in the army and security forces, all while guaranteeing the right of peaceful protest.

“What was presented was a road map for departure within a time frame of a month or two, or six months,” said Mohammed al-Sabry, a spokesman for Yemen’s main opposition coalition which includes Islamists and leftists.

“As for the people’s demand for the departure of the regime, there is no going back on that,” he added.

The rotating opposition chairman, Mohamed al-Mutawakil, said the coalition was asking for guarantees of the right to peaceful protest and for trials of those responsible for a harsh crackdown on protests in which 24 people were killed in two weeks.

“We have to start the transfer of power from the person to civil society organisations, and this is a needed step to ensure a safe and peaceful exit to the situation Yemen is living in,” he said, saying a transition should be completed by the end of the year. There was no immediate response from the government.

PROTESTS ESCALATING

Saleh, a key ally of Washington’s against al Qaeda’s resurgent Yemen-based arm, has vowed to step aside when his term ends in 2013 and avoid transferring power to his son.

He has had trouble persuading opponents this was anything more than a manoeuvre to ward off the spread of unrest already raging in Libya, Bahrain and Oman, galvanised by successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

The protesters on the streets — 10,000 each in Sanaa and the industrial city of Taiz and Ibb — showed little readiness to allow a more measured tone on transition, complicating efforts to give Saleh a respectable way out.

Political analysts say it remains unclear who really has the upper hand in Yemen, where tribal allegiances are strong. Young people have given street protests their momentum but the opposition is able to draw bigger crowds.

With the protests swelling gradually, there has been a series of defections among his allies to those seeking a change in the Arabian Peninsula state teetering on the brink of failure.

A leading hardline Muslim cleric, Sheikh Abdul-Majid al-Zindani who two weeks ago backed Saleh staying on until 2013, joined protesters in Sanaa on Tuesday, but many seemed wary of his presence even as Islamists cheered him on.

“We’ll be here until the regime departs and we have no other demand,” said Ali Naji, a protester in Sanaa.

Samia al-Aghbari, a student leader in Sanaa, said: “The agreement bypasses the youth revolution and is not acceptable. Our demand is one: The departure of the regime.”

Where once the protests were the domain of students and activists, they have also attracted a broader segment of society into the streets that last week began to include children, some wearing headbands emblazoned with the word: “Leave”.

(Writing by Cynthia Johnston; editing by Andrew Dobbie)



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