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Yemen's President Offers Reforms in Bid to Calm Growing Turmoil

President Ali Abdullah Saleh speaks during a media conference in Sanaa, Yemen, February 21, 2011

President Ali Abdullah Saleh speaks during a media conference in Sanaa, Yemen, February 21, 2011

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh is vowing to undertake political and constitutional reforms, in a bid to calm protests that have been shaking the country for more than ten days.

As protesters call for his resignation, President Saleh insisted Monday that he would not quit, unless voters repudiated him at the ballot box. He also vowed to undertake serious political reform and urged protesters to use the election process to work for change:

He says that he supports political reforms, legal reforms and constitutional reforms. He says he is opposed to unrest and violence. He insists that people who want change should adopt what he calls a civilized and decent behavior and participate in parliamentary and presidential elections.

Despite Mr. Saleh’s pledge for reform, hundreds of young Yemenis appear to have set up camp outside Sanaa University, shouting and waving signs demanding his resignation.

Yemen expert Stephen Steinbeiser of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies in Sana'a says that he expected the president’s promise of reform to appease young people and opposition parties, but that students appear unwilling to accept his offer:

"It seems that a lot of young people are really committed to the idea of revolution or change in some very substantive way and a lot of them, they are optimistic that basically the revolution is happening right now,” Steinbeiser said. “I don't know if it is, and I certainly can't imagine a time frame for real change to somehow occur in the very near future, but it just seems to me that people are dug in and entrenched in positions and I'm not sure if mere dialogue is going to make any kind of a difference."

Steinbeiser argues that Yemenis have strong historic ties to nearby Egypt and that most people watched the popular movement sweep away former President Hosni Mubarak and that some are now trying to bring down President Saleh, as well.

"People were definitely glued to the events in Cairo a couple of weeks ago and it was amazing for everyone,” he added. “And I think that planted the idea. Egypt and Yemen have a long history together and once the revolution succeeded in Egypt then I'm sure that emboldened people here. People were watching al-Jazeera TV up until about 4 o'clock two days ago when it was blocked."

Tens of thousands of protesters reportedly gathered Monday in the city of Taiz. And in the southern port city of Aden, witnesses say that security forces fired on stone-throwing young people, causing casualties.

A Yemeni opposition spokesman denounced President Saleh’s offers of reform, calling them a "mere attempt to win time." Mr. Saleh has been in office since 1978, and his current term runs out in 2013.

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