RIYADH (Reuters) - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed a deal on
Wednesday under which he will step down after 33 years in power and 10
months of protests against his rule that brought the country to the brink of
Celebrations erupted in the capital Sanaa as Saleh inked the agreement that
made him the fourth leader to be forced from power in 10 months of mass
protests that have swept the Arab world. Yemenis danced in the streets, set
off fireworks and waved flags as Saleh finally agreed to step down.
Under the agreement, signed with opposition leaders at a ceremony hosted by
Saudi King Abdullah at the royal palace in Riyadh, Saleh will immediately
transfer his powers to his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. In return he will
retain the title of president until a new head of state is elected.
"I declare the turning of a new page in the history of Yemen," Saudi King
Abdullah said in a brief statement before the signing ceremony, also
attended by Crown Prince Nayef.
"Saudi Arabia will remain the best supporter for Yemen," the king added.
Hadi would form a new government with the opposition and call an early
presidential election within three months.
"This is as honourable an exit as he (Saleh) can get, considering the
circumstances," said Ghanem Nusseibeh, a London-based analyst. "But the key
thing is how the deal will be implemented and if the coalition government
will be strong enough to take charge of the whole country," he added.
The United States and the European Union hailed the accord.
"This represents an important step forward for the Yemeni people, who
deserve the opportunity to determine their own future," President Barack
Obama said in a statement.
The Pentagon said the United States and Yemen would continue to work
together against militants. "Despite the political instability in Yemen, we
have been able to preserve important counter-terrorism relationships with
In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Saleh's signing
of the deal should open the way to national reconciliation and a transition
"The agreement is only the beginning, but it is a very important beginning.
It allows the Yemeni people the much needed hope that their country can turn
a page in its history and embrace a new future," she said in a statement.
Saudi state television broadcast live the signing ceremony, where Saleh was
shown chatting and sipping traditional coffee with King Abdullah. Saleh
spent three months in Riyadh undergoing treatment following an assassination
attempt in June.
The attempt on Saleh's life came after he ducked out of the deal, which
ushered in street battles that devastated parts of his capital Sanaa.
The 69-year-old leader, who has ruled Yemen since 1978, asked Saudi Arabia
and members of the U.N. Security Council to ensure the implementation of the
accord, brokered by Yemen's Gulf Arab neighbours.
"We aspire with confidence to the brothers in Saudi Arabia ... to review,
help and oversee the implementation of the accord and the operational
mechanism," he said.
MONTHS OF BLOODSTAINED PROTESTS
Hundreds of people have been killed during months of protests seeking
Saleh's ouster. The political deadlock has reignited simmering conflicts
with separatists and militants, raising fears that Yemen's al Qaeda wing
could take a foothold on the borders of Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil
Details of the power transfer deal -- drawn up by Yemen's richer neighbours
in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) earlier this year, and
thwarted by Saleh on three separate occasions -- were hammered out by U.N.
envoy Jamal Benomar, with support from U.S. and European diplomats.
"This is a very good day for Yemen and we hope it provides the framework for
a reform process during the transition that will lead to...free and fair
elections," he told Reuters at the signing ceremony.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York that Saleh had
told him in a telephone conversation on Tuesday that he intended to "come to
New York to take medical treatment immediately after signing this
A Yemeni official had said on Tuesday that the accord was facing opposition
from some senior politicians in Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC).
Saudi fears about chaos in Yemen are shared by Washington, which regards the
country as a front line against al Qaeda and long backed Saleh as a key to
its campaign against Islamist militants.
PROTESTERS DENOUNCE DEAL "WITHIN THE REGIME"
The deal to nudge him from power was denounced by some of the youth
protesters who have emerged as a presence in Yemen's politics, and regard
the parties that negotiated his exit partners in the crimes of which they
"We will remain on the streets until our demands are met," activist Samia
al-Aghbari told Reuters. "Saleh's crimes won't end with time, so we will
pursue him and all the killers."
But others welcomed the deal as a first victory of their uprising.
"This is a great victory," Badr Ali Ahmed, an activist at Change Square,
said. "We have achieved one of the goals of the revolution, which is to
bring down the head of the regime, and God willing we will achieve the
Hamdan al-Haqab, a field organizer, said: "We were not part of this
initiative, but since it happened, we consider it to be the first
achievement of the revolution ... We will continue to achieve all our
A Yemeni official said that renegade general Ali Mohsen, a longtime Saleh
ally who turned on him after protests began, and Sadeq al-Ahmar, a tribal
notable who also threw his weight against Saleh, could try to block the deal
which excludes them.
Those figures, along with Saleh's son and a nephew who commands a key
paramilitary unit, form a balance of forces on the ground that analysts say
none is likely to tip, making a political resolution the only way out of
Witnesses said Ahmar fighters and Saleh forces traded shelling in the Soufan
and al-Hasaba neighbourhoods in Sanaa, where the tribal chief lives, and
that sounds of explosions could be heard from a distance.
There were no reports of casualties. The area was the scene of heavy clashes
earlier this year, where scores of people from both sides died.
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa; Writing by Sami Aboudi;
Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Giles Elgood)
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Received on Wed Nov 23 2011 - 19:00:06 EST