President Abed Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi at the closing ceremony of the National Dialogue. (AFP)
Yemenis concluded a national dialogue Saturday aimed at drafting a new constitution and establishing a federal state. The talks were launched in March 2013 as part of a UN-backed transition that saw president Ali Abdullah Saleh step down after 33 years in power.
The nation's political factions gave interim President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, whose two-year term had originally been due to end with elections in February 2014, an extra year after delays in the transition to democracy. He will oversee a shift to a federal system intended to accommodate southern separatist demands for more autonomy. Hadi, who will head a special committee, was also tasked with the drafting of a new constitution within three months. He was also mandated to reshuffle the cabinet and restructure the Shura Council, the consultative upper house of parliament, to give more representation to the south and to Shi'ite Muslim rebels in the north. Southerners have strongly opposed proposals for a federation of six units -- four in the north and two in the south -- instead of one each for the formerly independent north and south, fearing that their influence would be diluted. Southern separatists have been demanding to revive the state that merged with North Yemen in 1990.
"We will work as soon as possible to form a regions committee and another to draft a constitution," al-Hadi said at the closing ceremony attended by representatives of the United Nations, Arab League and Gulf states. "We still have a long way to go to implement the document," he said.
The national reconciliation talks have been plagued by walk-outs by politicians and highlighting the security challenges facing Yemen, Ahmad Sharafeddin, a Houthi delegate at the reconciliation talks who had served as dean of the law faculty at Sanaa University, was killed on Tuesday when gunmen in a speeding vehicle sprayed his car with bullets in central Sanaa. The Houthi group fought radical Sunni Salafis in northern Yemen from October until earlier this month, when a ceasefire was reached to relocate the Salafis to another city some 250 km (155 miles) away. But clashes have continued in other parts of northern Yemen with tribesmen allied to the Salafis.
More than 210 people have been killed in the fighting that erupted in late October after the Houthis accused the Salafis of recruiting foreign militants in preparation to attack them.