SANAA (Reuters) - At least six Yemenis were killed in the capital on Tuesday in an intensifying crackdown by security forces on protesters demanding that the president step down.
In New York, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — were hoping to agree later on Tuesday on a draft resolution demanding Saleh comply with a Gulf Cooperation Council peace plan that would require him to cede power.
If the five agree among themselves, they would pass the text to the other 10 council members in the hope that the panel’s 15 members would vote on it before the end of the week, diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
At least 34 people have been killed in Yemen in the past four days and well over 100 have been injured. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has held on to power but has suggested he could resign in line with an Arab-brokered deal that would grant him immunity from prosecution for any crimes he might have committed.
Witnesses in Yemen described an increasingly tense situation. Sanaa residents said protesters approaching government buildings were attacked by security forces.
“The number of dead is now six,” said Tariq Nouman, a doctor at the field hospital set up by protesters in Change Square.
“We have 50 injured, most of whom are in critical condition, by live bullets and 80 to 90 choking injuries from the tear gas,” said Jamila Yaqoub, another doctor.
Amnesty International criticized the idea of endorsing a GCC plan that would guarantee Saleh, who has ruled Yemen with an iron fist for three decades, and those close to him immunity from prosecution for rights violations.
“The international community must send a clear message that those responsible for extrajudicial executions, torture and enforced disappearances in Yemen will be brought to justice as part of any transition agreement,” Amnesty International said.
Yemeni citizens, inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, have been camped out in the streets since January demanding that Saleh step down.
Saleh survived a June assassination attempt and returned to Yemen, strategically located at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, last month after treatment in Saudi Arabia.
The six-nation GCC has proposed a power transfer plan that offers immunity to Saleh and those serving under him. Saleh has backed away from the plan three times so far.
Saleh says he is ready to step down but wants to ensure that control of the country is put in “safe hands.” He has said he is relying on support from Russia and China, which Western diplomats say have held up agreement on the draft resolution in New York, to stop moves to force him to hand over power.
The British-drafted resolution, which was obtained by Reuters, “stresses that all those responsible for human rights violations and abuses should be held accountable.”
But it also demands that Saleh, or those authorized to act on his behalf, “immediately sign and implement a political transition on the basis of the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative” — which guarantees Saleh immunity.
Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch said council action on Yemen was “long overdue but for the Security Council to bless an immunity deal for Saleh and the people around him would set a devastating precedent.”