Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Yemeni president Saleh warns of civil war, makes new offer, situation in Sanaa tense
Update Wednesday: President Ali Abdallah Saleh has made a new offer to the opposition. After initially having promised to step down in 2013, and thereafter in an new proposal in 2012, he now proposed to leave at the end of the year after elections for a new parliament and a new president.
'At this historic moment Yemen needs wisdom to avoid slipping into violence ... that would destroy gains and leave the country facing a dangerous fate,' Saleh said in a letter passed to opposition groups in a bid to reconcile differences. Opposition groups, which had earlier called for massive rallies in the capital Sanaa on Friday to force Saleh from power, said they were studying the offer. The letter, also sent to army commander Ali Mohsen, who has declared support for the protesters, contained a proposal to hold a referendum on a new constitution, then a parliamentary election followed by a presidential poll before the end of 2011.
Also on Wednesday the Yemeni parliament approved an emergency law. Human Rights Watch commented: Yemen's new emergency law does not override the government's obligation to respect fundamental human rights under international law. Yemen's parliament on March 23, 2011, approved sweeping emergency legislation authorizing 30 days of expanded powers of arrest, detention, and censorship. President Ali Abdullah Saleh had declared a state of emergency on March 18, hours after pro-government gunmen opened fire on anti-government protesters in Sanaa, the capital. The attack killed at least 52 people and wounded hundreds.
"Emergency laws are no excuse to use unlawful force to quash peaceful protests," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The world is watching to see whether President Saleh will respect the basic rights of his citizens."
The legislation, which effectively suspends the constitution, allows media censorship, bars street protests, and gives security forces sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects without judicial process. Human Rights Watch also called for a full disclosure of the voting procedures used to pass the law. Article 71 of Yemen's Constitution states that at least half of the 301 National Assembly members must be present for its meetings to be valid. Some opposition legislators issued statements saying that fewer than half the assembly members were present for the vote and that it was taken by a show of hands.
Saleh had accused defecting generals on Tuesday of trying to stage a coup against him, saying the country would descend into a bloody civil war if he were forced to step down. 'Those trying to wrest power through coups should know that this is impossible,' Saleh said in a defiant speech on television on Tuesday. 'The fatherland will be made unstable, there will be war, a bloody civil war. They should carefully reflect on this.'
Military units appeared to have taken sides in the capital, with the elite troops of the Republican Guard protecting the palace of the president and soldiers from the 1st Armored Division under the defected Ali Mohsen Saleh, protecting the protesters. Ali Mohsen Saleh, the president's half brother, used to be an ally of Ali Abdallah Saleh, but since a few years, particularly since president Saleh appeared to prepare the way for his son Ahmed to become his successor, he became a rival.
Late on Monday Yemen's defence minister, Mohammad Nasser Ali, set the scene for possible military confrontation between the two, saying the army would back Saleh against any coup attempt. Analysts are worried that if a political agreement is not reached soon a violent military showdown will ensue. Clashes already broke out on Tuesday between units of the Republican Guard led by the president's son, Ahmed, and Yemen's regular army, in the southern city of Mukalla. Two soldiers died.
Saleh also announced on Tuesday that he would accept a proposal for an early departure from office, in January 2012. Previously he had offered to leave by 2013. The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), Yemen's opposition coalition, refused the offer and said they would accept nothing short of immediate resignation.
In the meantime the defections from the governbment ranks continue. Seventeen more foreign diplomats, including the Yemeni ambassador to the UK, resigned on Monday. Abdul-Karim al-Iryani, the minister of water and environment, former prime minister and former minister of foreign affairs, who long has been close to president Saleh (and who was dismissed with the remainder of the cabinet on Sunday), also said he was joining 'the revolutionaries'.
Yemen opposition groups called on protesters to march on President Ali Abdullah Saleh's Sanaa palace on Friday to demand he step down, hoping to end a crisis that his allies abroad fear will benefit Islamic militants. "Friday will be the 'Friday of the March Forward', with hundreds of thousands of people... We will arrive where you are and we will remove you,' opposition spokesman Mohamed Qahtan told Al Jazeera on Wednesday, addressing the beleaguered Yemeni president.<