Yemen’s President Set to Sign Exit Deal, Protests Continue

Posted November 23rd, 2011 at 10:10 am (UTC-5)
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Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh is in Saudi Arabia where he is expected to sign a deal that calls for him to hand over power, but protests seeking his immediate ouster continue in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a.

Mr. Saleh arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday to sign a Gulf Cooperation Council initiative that calls for him to transfer power to a deputy and allow the formation of a national unity government.

On three previous occasions, Mr. Saleh indicated a willingness to sign the plan which could end months of anti-government protests. However, each time he backed away at the last minute without signing the deal. Yemeni state television said Wednesday that implementation of the GCC initiative could “save” Yemen from the anti-government crisis.

However, many protesters oppose a provision in the plan that would give Mr. Saleh immunity from prosecution, and they continued rallies on Wednesday.

A government crackdown on the protests, and fighting between government troops and opposition militiamen, have killed hundreds of people and wounded thousands more.

Witnesses say fighting erupted again Wednesday in a northern district of Sana'a, with exchanges of fire between pro-Saleh troops and forces loyal to opposition tribal chief Sadeq al-Ahmar.

U.N. envoy to Yemen, Jamal bin Omar, says Mr. Saleh and the opposition agreed in principle on the GCC initiative on Tuesday. Bin Omar helped mediate the agreement.

Yemeni opposition activists have been holding near-daily mass protests since January to demand an immediate end to Mr. Saleh's 33-year autocratic rule.

Al-Qaida-linked militants have seized control of several parts of southern Yemen as the government struggled to contain unrest in other regions.