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Yemen opposition signs deal for Saleh's departure

But the president, after saying he would sign the accord, dismisses it as 'a mere coup operation.' He has twice sidestepped the plan, in which he would step down in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

May 21, 2011|By Iona Craig, Los Angeles Times
  • Members of the military join in at a Sana rally to demand the ouster of Yemeni President Ali Abullah Saleh.
Members of the military join in at a Sana rally to demand the ouster of Yemeni… (Khaled Abdullah, Reuters )

Reporting from Sana, Yemen — Yemen's political opposition signed an internationally negotiated deal Saturday that lays the groundwork for an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's nearly 33-year rule.

Saleh has said he intends to sign the agreement Sunday. But in a speech Saturday, he dismissed the plan as "a mere coup operation." He also claimed that if he left office, Yemen's Al Qaeda offshoot would overrun parts of the country.

"This is the message that I send to our friends and brothers in the United States and the European Union," Saleh said. "The successor will be worse than what we have currently."

Under the long-discussed deal, brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saleh would hand over power to his vice president within a month in exchange for immunity from prosecution for himself, his family and his aides. Elections would be held in three months.

Saleh has twice sidestepped signing the plan, which seeks to end more than four months of street protests across the country.

The chairman of the opposition coalition, Mohammed Salem Basendwah, declined to comment on the deal Saturday. Protest leaders remained opposed to the accord.

"The political opposition have lost credibility by signing," said Jamal Nasser, a spokesman for the Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change, which represents 140 protest groups. "I don't believe [Saleh] will sign tomorrow … but if he does it will be fake, something to allow more maneuvering."

Craig is a special correspondent.

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