Thursday, October 20, 2011

Saleh says he is ready to step down

Yemen’s embattled Ali Abdullah Saleh says he is ready to quit office but demanded American and European guarantees on a timetable to implement the Gulf initiative. (Photo by Reuters)Yemen’s embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh said Wednesday he was ready to sign a Gulf-brokered deal for him to quit office but demanded American and European guarantees on a timetable.
“I would sign. But provide guarantees to implement the Gulf initiative,” Saleh, reiterating his claimed willingness to leave power after 33 years in office, told a party meeting, Saba state news agency reported.

“We want, first, Gulf guarantees, second, European, and third, American. These three guarantees should accompany the Gulf initiative,” he added, standing defiant after nine months of deadly protests demanding his ouster.

“Part of the pressure being exerted now stems from demands that it (the deal) is signed without any conditions and that the time framework (for implementation) be discussed at a later stage,” he complained.

Under the terms of the Gulf initiative tabled earlier this year, Saleh would hand power to the vice president 30 days after the signing, and he and his aides would be granted immunity from prosecution by parliament.

A national unity government led by a prime minister from the opposition would be formed, and a presidential election would follow 60 days after Saleh’s departure.

“We have said that we are ready to endorse the (Gulf) initiative, but do you not want us to discuss the time framework for its mechanism,” added the veteran leader whose presidential term ends in 2013.

He did not elaborate on the timetable he wants.

The United Nations human rights office had said on Tuesday that any power transfer deal in Yemen should not include an amnesty for President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose security forces are accused of killing largely peaceful protesters and other crimes, as Yemeni Nobel peace laureate Tawakul Karman called on the International Criminal Court to investigate the actions of the Yemeni government.

Karman made an impassioned plea to the United Nations to repudiate a Gulf Arab plan that would grant immunity to her country’s “war criminal” president.

A proposed power transfer plan brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) would offer immunity to Saleh and those serving under him in exchange for his stepping down.
The U.N. Security Council is expected to make a decision this week on a resolution to “strongly condemn” the government’s human rights violations. The draft resolution, obtained by Reuters in New York, urges Saleh to “immediately sign and implement” the plan by the six-nation GCC, according to Reuters.

“We’ve not seen the details of the initiative put forth by the GCC so we can’t comment on the specifics of that proposed deal. However, international law is pretty clear on this issue. It prohibits the use of amnesties that prevent the prosecution of individuals for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity or gross violations of human rights,” U.N. rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva.

“So that’s the general position on amnesties which would apply in this situation, as in any other,” he added, speaking in response to a reporter’s question.

The office of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemns the killing of largely peaceful protesters in the cities of Sana’a and Taez by Yemeni security forces wielding indiscriminate force, Colville said.

Four days of violence

At least 34 people have been killed in the last four days, including six on Tuesday, in the intensifying crackdown.

“In addition to those killed, hundreds of people have been reportedly injured by the disproportionate use of force against unarmed protesters,” Colville said.

An international, independent investigation was required to hold perpetrators accountable and render justice to victims.

“We are extremely concerned that security forces continue to use excessive force in a climate of impunity for crimes that are resulting in heavy loss of life and injury, despite repeated pledges by the government to the contrary,” he added.

Amnesty International has said that Saleh should not be immune from prosecution and those responsible for extrajudicial executions, torture and enforced disappearances should be brought to justice as part of any transition agreement.

Saleh, who says he is ready to step down but wants to ensure that control of the country is put in “safe hands,” has rejected the GCC plan three times.

Saleh, who has ruled the impoverished country for 33 years, has stayed in office despite 10 months of mass protests against his rule inspired by pro-democracy unrest across the Arab world.

Opposition to him has turned increasingly violent and organized, threatening to pitch Yemen into all-out civil war.

The U.N. rights office also called on armed opponents of Saleh’s government to remove weapons from public spaces being used by peaceful protesters and to “stop launching armed attacks from densely-populated areas.”

Karman leads protests outside U.N.

Karman joined about 100 protesters Tuesday outside the United Nations to call for Saleh to stand down.

“We came here to tell that Ali Abdullah Saleh and (Syrian leader) Bashar al-Assad are both criminals and they have to be held accountable and prosecuted,” Karman said.

“People are living on sidewalks and are being killed everyday... All because they asked for democracy and justice,” she said according to AFP.

“These regimes are a danger to international security,” she added, speaking through a translator.

Karman, who shared the 2011 Nobel prize with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and “peace warrior” Leymah Gbowee also from Liberia, has called on the United Nations to act immediately to halt the Yemeni government's crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

“As a Yemeni leader, as a Nobel Prize winner, as a leader of the Arab Spring, I came here to tell them to stand up for these rights,” Karman said.

“We’re calling on them to treat the revolutions in Yemen and Syria just like they did in Libya.”

“I feel ashamed that tonight I will be sleeping in a hotel and my people will be sleeping in the streets.”

Karman and tens of thousands of other pro-democracy activists have camped out in Sanaa’s Change Square for months, marching against Saleh despite a violent crackdown by government troops that has killed hundreds since the mass protest movement began in late January.

U.N. diplomats told Reuters that they hoped the draft resolution, which was penned by Britain in consultation with France, the United States, Russia and China, would be put to a vote and approved before the end of the week.

Russia and China, which vetoed a European-drafted resolution condemning Syria’s crackdown, are not planning to block the Yemen resolution, council diplomats say.

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