Yemen’s opposition dismissed yesterday a government plan for talks aimed at easing unrest after months of mass protests demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s overthrow, saying it had not even heard of any such “road map” for peace.
Vice President Abd-Rabbu Hadi Mansour, who is acting president while Saleh remains in a Saudi Arabian hospital after an assassination attempt, said on Sunday that a road map would be launched within a week.
Government spokesman Tareq al-Shami said the plan would centre on talks with the opposition. “The road map is based on all sides gathering at the dialogue table and discussing all the issues,” he said.
But the opposition repeated its refusal to talk to the government until Saleh signs a transition plan brokered by Gulf Arab states which the 69-year-old president has backed out of signing three times.
“We knew nothing about the idea of a road map. There is no such thing, and we have decided not to enter any dialogue until the Gulf initiative is signed or power is transferred to the vice president,” said Mohamed Basindwa, a leader in Yemen’s opposition coalition.
Saleh is trying to cling to power after 33 years in office despite a bomb attack in June that severely wounded him and forced him to seek treatment in Riyadh. He has frustrated opposition hopes that he would concede defeat, instead vowing to return to Yemen and lead a national dialogue.
The US and Saudi Arabia, both targets of foiled attacks by Al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, have warily watched unrest rise as Yemen remains mired in political deadlock. They worry the turmoil gives more room to Al Qaeda to operate.
But Yemen’s Gulf Arab neighbours and Washington have so far been unwilling or unable to force Saleh into a transition plan. Some have welcomed the proposals for dialogue, but the political opposition and protesters in the street have vowed to resist, insisting on Saleh’s overthrow amid growing chaos.
Separately, Yemeni state media identified the suicide bomber in a truck attack that killed nine soldiers on Sunday as Turki Saad al-Shahrani, a Saudi named on a list of dozens of Al Qaeda-linked militants wanted in Saudi Arabia.
Shahrani was “a Saudi national, explosives expert and a member of Al Qaeda,” the official Saba news agency quoted an interior ministry official as saying.
Soldiers said that the bomber detonated a pickup truck at the entrance of a military camp in Aden, and that the blast tore through military vehicles as they were leaving.
The Saudi and Yemeni Al Qaeda branches announced in January 2009 that they had merged to form the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Dozens of hard-core Saudis fled a crackdown on Islamic militants in their own country in 2005-2006 and joined up with the Al Qaeda cause in
In the south, tribesmen yesterday said they routed militants from parts of the capital of the flashpoint Abyan province. Zinjibar lies east of a key shipping channel where some 3mn barrels of oil pass daily, and is one of several areas in Abyan seized by militants in recent months.
The tribes began backing a military operation to recapture Zinjibar in recent weeks, after accusing the army of being ineffective.
A tribal source said fierce clashes yesterday sent many militants fleeing north to Loder, where they were repelled again. Six militants were wounded and four others captured, he said.
Some 90,000 civilians have fled Abyan to escape violence as the army and tribesmen confront militants the government says have links to Al Qaeda.
Meanwhile, an army brigade in Abyan, whose base has been attacked by militants since neighbouring Zinjibar was seized in May, sent a plea to the military for more provisions.
The besieged 25th brigade had called on Sanaa earlier this month to send reinforcements, who have since broken part of a militants’ blockade around the base. An officer said despite the dwindling supplies, the troops had not given up their fight.