May 7, 2011 / 8:34 AM / in 7 years

Yemen youth protest leaders want Gulf plan withdrawn

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemeni youth groups leading mass protests to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh called on Gulf Arab states Saturday to withdraw a plan that has failed so far to usher him out of power.

Anti-government protesters attend weekly Friday prayers during a rally to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southwestern city of Ibb May 6, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer

Yemen’s main opposition said Friday the deal, proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to end months of unrest, had been modified to allow Saleh to sign as party leader rather than president, a condition that nearly derailed the deal last week.

“We call on the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council to stop any initiatives that result in alienating the Yemeni people,” said the groups, under the banner Youth Revolution.

“We call on the United States, the European Union and the permanent (U.N.) Security Council members to assume their moral responsibility and stop ... meddling directed against the will of the Yemeni people to ensure freedom and democracy,” the groups said in a statement.

Many of the demonstrators, who include students, tribesmen and activists, have vowed to stay in the streets until Saleh steps down. They are not affiliated with opposition parties, comprised of Islamists, Arab nationalists and leftists who have cooperated with the authoritarian Saleh in the past.

The plan requires the Yemeni leader, until recently backed by Saudi Arabia and the United States as a bulwark against al Qaeda and regional instability, to resign 30 days after signing.

Critics saw Saleh’s refusal a week ago to sign the deal as president as a clear sign that the shrewd political survivor had no intention of stepping down quickly after 33 years in office.

Anti-government protesters attend a rally to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa May 6, 2011. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Sceptical opposition leaders said Friday it appeared the GCC had acceded to demands by the ruling party.

But GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani denied on Saturday any change had been made to the plan.

Asked in Abu Dhabi if there were any changes to the initiative, Zayani said: “None whatsoever. It is the same GCC initiative. We added the names of people to sign the agreement.”

In continued unrest in south Yemen, gunmen shot dead the director of a branch of a state-run cooperative bank on Saturday, state media said, adding that two of the suspected attackers were later killed in a shootout with troops.

A 16-year-old boy died after being shot by security forces at a demonstration demanding the postponement of school exams in the southern city of Taiz, a hospital official said. Ten other students were injured.

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A Yemeni tribal source said Saturday that Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born, prominent al Qaeda activist known for encouraging attacks on the United States, was not hit by a U.S. drone aircraft attack that killed two mid-level al Qaeda militants in Yemen Thursday.

“We believe they targeted him. But he was not hurt,” the source, a kinsman of Awlaki, told Reuters by telephone from the cleric’s home province of Shabwa where the attack occurred.

Gulf Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s neighbor, are eager to see peace return to Yemen, a poor state struggling to deal with internal rebellion and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has made Yemen its base.

The group has claimed responsibility for a foiled 2009 attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound plane. It was also blamed for bombs found in cargo en route to the United States in 2010.

Many worry that Yemen could quickly descend into widespread internal conflict — half of its 23 million people own a gun.

Demonstrations for and against Saleh attracted large crowds in the capital Friday. In cities throughout Yemen, anti-Saleh protesters were out in force.

Saleh has withstood three months of street unrest and on Friday called his opponents “outlaws” and “forces of terror.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon vowed Friday to continue pressing for change in Yemen, but sounded a note of exasperation at the slow progress.

“It is unfortunate and frustrating that all these agreements which were presented by the GCC and the international community have not been fully accepted and agreed and implemented.”

Additional reporting by Mohamed Sudam in Sanna, and by Stanley Carvalho and Martina Fuchs in Abu Dhabi; Writing by Firouz Sedarat; editing by Mark Heinrich

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