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As Yemen Crisis Drags On, Risks Grow

  • Elizabeth Arrott

Yemen's embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh makes his first public appearance since he was injured in a blast at his palace compound in June, 2011. (file photo)

Yemen's embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh makes his first public appearance since he was injured in a blast at his palace compound in June, 2011. (file photo)

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh says he is working on a plan for a peaceful transition of power, even as opponents announce they will unilaterally create what looks like an alternative government.

The main opposition coalition will meet next week to form what it's calling a "national council" to step up the pressure against Saleh, who is currently in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. The opposition Joint Meeting Parties want to unite the demands of street protesters and other anti-government forces seeking an end to Saleh's decades-long rule.

Government officials are warning against any such council, saying it would be a declaration of war against the state. Moreover, they say, it is unnecessary. Yemen's state media report that the president is again considering a plan by the Gulf Cooperation Council that outlines the steps toward a post-Saleh Yemen. The president is quoted as saying late Wednesday that his government is committed to finding solutions to the "disagreement" with the opposition.

Saleh was shown in a video from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he has been recovering from a bomb blast at his presidential compound in June. He appeared more vigorous than in previous images. However, his comments about the GCC plan came under question. He has agreed to the GCC proposal three times in recent months, each time backing out at the last minute.

The ongoing stalemate, now in its seventh month, is raising further alarms abroad. The U.N. Security Council this week expressed its concerns, which range from a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen, to the instability being exploited by the Yemen-based terrorist group, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

U.N. Security Council President Hardeep Singh Puri urged all parties to reject violence as a solution to the political crisis.

"The members of the Security Council also called on all parties to move forward urgently, and an inclusive, orderly and Yemeni-led process of political transition that meets the needs and aspirations of the Yemeni people for change," said Puri.

Yemen's government stresses that change will not be brought about by any external pressure.

Officials this week rejected a report that the United States and Saudi Arabia are urging Saleh not to return to Sana'a. A U.S. State Department spokesman also denied the report, saying it was up to the president to return or not. Washington has long supportedSaleh as a bulwark against al-Qaida.

Yemeni political commentator Nasser Arrabyee says Saleh's whereabouts are likely not as important as his actual involvement in the process.

"Saleh still has a lot of support," he said. "His supporters are millions here and that's why the international community is focusing on a constitutional transition, which means that it is only President Saleh who will do this constitutional transition."

Arrabyee says the alternative, more violence between government forces and its opponents, is in no one's interest. But he adds that the longer the situation drags on, the greater the chance that militant forces can coopt the original pro-reform movement.

"The protesters are still there in the streets," said Arrabyee. "But their leaders are doing something else. They are now involved in military confrontations, under the leadership of al Ahmar, and they have also the defected general Ali Mohsen, who also supported the protests but he is involved in many military confrontations."

Tribal leader Sadiq al-Ahmar, whose members have already fought fierce battles against government troops, joined forces late last month with other tribal groups to form the Alliance of Yemeni Tribes. The well-armed tribes say any aggression against the protesters will be considered an attack against them.

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