SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen’s government should seize on President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s absence to bring about a swift and peaceful handover of power, the United States suggested.
While Saleh remains in Riyadh recovering from his wounds from Friday’s rocket attack on his palace, there is a chance that Yemen can avoid the descent into chaos that Saudi Arabia and the United States are anxious to avoid, analysts say.
“We are calling for a peaceful and orderly transition,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in Washington. “We feel that an immediate transition is in the best interests of the Yemeni people.”
Yemen’s acting leader, Vice President Abu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, said Saleh would return within days, but the attitude of Saudi Arabia, which has traditionally played a neutral role in Yemeni politics, could now be decisive.
Saudi officials insist they will not interfere with Saleh’s decision to return to Yemen or stay in the kingdom, but behind the scenes the United States and Europe are likely to be pressing the Saudis to ensure Saleh’s stay becomes permanent.
“The Saudis will seize the opportunity ... to extend his medical recovery into a political rest,” said Yemen expert Khaled Fattah. The risk of Yemen descending into Somalia-style anarchy was “a nightmare for Saudi national security.”
In the Yemeni capital Sanaa, a Saudi-brokered truce was holding after two weeks of fighting between Saleh’s forces and a powerful tribal group in which more than 200 people were killed and thousands forced to flee.
But there was fresh fighting in the southern city of Taiz, and also in the southern province of Abyan, where armed men killed seven soldiers and wounded 12 others in clashes in Zinjibar on Monday, a local official and witnesses said.
An army force had tried to storm the town of 20,000. Last month, dozens of armed men believed to be from al Qaeda stormed into Zinjibar, chasing out security forces.
An opposition party coalition, which joined months of street protests to end Saleh’s three-decade rule, said it backed transferring power to the vice-president.
The Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council urged all parties to work to end violence and said it was continuing its efforts to negotiate a power-transfer deal. Saleh has three times agreed to hand over power and three times reneged on the deal.
In a joint statement, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and the Prime Ministers of Britain, Spain and Italy, thanked Saudi Arabia for receiving Saleh for treatment, and called on all parties in Yemen to “find a means of reconciliation on the basis of the GCC initiative.”
Yemen, which relies on oil for 60 percent of its economy, has been dealt a heavy blow by the closure of an oil pipeline that trade sources said has caused a fuel shortages.
But the future of Yemen, riven by rivalries among tribal leaders, generals and politicians, remains uncertain.
“Saleh’s departure to Saudi Arabia isn’t just courtesy from the Saudi ruling family,” said Egyptian political analyst Nabil Abdel-Fattah. “The security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf is linked to security in Yemen.”
Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden and Jonathan Saul in London; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Diana Abdallah