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Yemeni opposition rejects gradual transfer of power

President Ali Abdullah Saleh, his support within Yemen's government crumbling, offers to leave office before his term ends in 2013, though not immediately. 'No deals,' an opposition leader says.

March 22, 2011|By Garrett Therolf, Los Angeles Times
  • Yemeni anti-government protesters demand the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Yemeni anti-government protesters demand the resignation of President… (Ahmad Gharabi / AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Cairo — Yemen's political crisis deepened Tuesday as opposition groups rejected an offer by President Ali Abdullah Saleh to negotiate a gradual transfer of power.

Under the terms of the offer, Saleh would step down before the end of his term in 2013 but would not immediately relinquish his office, according to a high-ranking government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment.

"He likely wants to stay in power until the end of this year, or really as long as possible, but the concession is an offer to put some timeline on a transfer of power," the official said.

But opposition groups denied that negotiations were underway with Saleh and pressed for his immediate removal.

"We accept no initiatives, no deals, and no negotiations with this man," said Sultan Atwani, leader of the opposition Nasserist Union Party. "There are only hours left for him. All these promises are desperate excuses."

Saleh's political challenges have grown dramatically in recent days after a bloody assault by government loyalists on opposition protesters that killed more than 50 people Friday. Scores of high-ranking government officials abandoned him in the wake of the massacre, and the defection of five top military leaders led to whispers of a coup.

In a televised address Tuesday, the president said he would resist any effort to transfer power to the military.

"This is my address to the military leaders," Saleh said. "I expect each one of you to live up to his own responsibility, within his own command and his own unit, in order to maintain the safety and stability of the military institution."

Saleh, who is considered an expert political tactician, has made promises at earlier points in his 32-year rule to leave office but later backed down. Many opposition members considered his latest offer to be disingenuous.

"This is yet another scheme to try and slow the momentum building on the streets," said Mohammed Qubati, an opposition spokesman.

The mood was jubilant at a long-running anti-government sit-in near Sana University, near the center of the capital. Loudspeakers led protesters in chants: "Protest, protest, until the regime falls!"

"We want his departure now," said Khalid Tamam, a 23-year-old unemployed man. "We don't need it in a week or in a month. Yemen and everyone here needs his immediate resignation for the sake of our future."

garrett.therolf@latimes.com

A special correspondent in Sana contributed to this report.

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