Yemeni leader agrees to plan for his resignation


SANAA, Yemen — Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has tentatively agreed to a five-point plan from opposition leaders
that includes the demand that the man who has ruled this troubled
nation for more than three decades step down by the end of the year,
according the president’s office.

Opposition figures and Saleh have reached “an initial agreement,” said presidential spokesman Mohammed al-Basha.
It is unclear, however, if Saleh, who was meeting with opposition
leaders Wednesday night, would attempt to modify the proposal in order
to remain in office until presidential elections in 2013.

Saleh’s departure would dramatically alter Yemen’s
political landscape. The country has been struggling with a
secessionist movement in the south, rebels in the north and an active
al-Qaida network. The U.S. has long been concerned about Islamic
militants exploiting a political vacuum in a country dominated by
tribes and plagued by corruption, poverty and malnutrition.

It is uncertain if Saleh leaving his post in nine
months would calm tens of thousands of protesters who for weeks have
been calling for his immediate overthrow. The president has already
made a number of concessions, including a promise that he would not
seek re-election, that his son would not succeed him, and that he would
stem widespread government corruption.

Saleh has broken similar promises in the past, and
his assurances have largely fallen on deaf ears. But he is under
increasing strain as tribes, religious leaders, students, workers and
others have not relented in pressuring him to resign.

The opposition plan would also require that Saleh
take indirect responsibility for the deaths of 27 protesters killed by
security forces and government loyalists over the past three weeks,
although he has repeatedly scoffed at making such an admission.

The five-point plan calls for a peaceful transition
of power in the next nine months and stipulates that all Yemenis, both
inside and outside of the country, should be involved in discussions to
form a new government. It also ensures that all Yemenis are free to
protest peacefully, that a committee should be formed to investigate
the attacks against protesters in recent weeks, and that the families
of those protesters who died will be compensated by the government.

The president offered a conciliatory gesture to the
opposition Monday that called for a power-sharing government until the
presidential elections. The opposition rejected that proposal, saying
any feasible road map for a peaceful transition of power must require
that the president step down immediately.

Wednesday’s opposition plan, however, sidestepped that demand, a move that may hurt its support among protesters.

“I think it’s a big mistake,” said Khaled Anesi,
a human rights lawyer involved in the protests. “The opposition will
lose the people on the street, who will not be satisfied until Saleh
announces he will step down from power. The opposition will kill its

Ahmed Fahkil, a Sanaa University student, was upset
too. “Haven’t we suffered long enough? We can’t begin to build a new
democracy while he is still at the head of the regime,” he said. “We
are the ones out here in the sun, not the opposition. Saleh must listen
to us.”

In Washington, meanwhile, the White House released a statement saying Saleh had called John Brennan, an assistant to President Barack Obama, on Wednesday morning “to convey his regret for misunderstandings related to his public remarks that Israel and the United States have engaged in destabilizing activities in Arab countries.”

Saleh, who has been assisting U.S. officials in the war against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, had given a fiery speech Tuesday blaming the U.S. and Israel
for the turmoil in the Arab world and saying that the anti-government
protests in his nation were being “run by the White House.”

“Mr. Brennan expressed appreciation for the call,”
the White House statement read, “and said that any comments that seek
to attribute blame for recent developments in the region are unhelpful,
as they ignore the legitimate aspirations of people in the Arab world.”


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