Yemen’s president urged the opposition to join talks in Saudi Arabia to try to end weeks of turmoil and violence in which at least three more people were killed on Tuesday.
Faced with mass demonstrations demanding an end to his 32-year rule, President Ali Abdullah Saleh is clinging to power in the poorest country in the Middle East, from which Al Qaeda has planned attacks on the United States.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Monday invited government and opposition representatives to talks in Saudi Arabia, at a date yet to be set, with the US pressing the veteran political survivor to negotiate with his opponents.
Saleh, who ignored a transition-of-power plan offered by the opposition on Saturday, accepted the Arab Gulf states’ invitation on Tuesday and urged the opposition to follow suit. “I promise that we will make every effort to return things to normal through talks with rational people from the Joint Meetings Party,” he said, referring to the main opposition coalition.
“We repeat our invitation to them to sit at the table of dialogue and we call for a restraint from violence.”
Aides to a prominent General, Ali Mohsen, who turned against Saleh last month, said he had also accepted the call for talks in Saudi Arabia. But the Joint Meetings Party was noncommittal in its response. “We welcome the (GCC) position on respecting the Yemeni people’s choices and we will also welcome any efforts made for the sake of President Saleh’s speedy departure,” spokesman Mohammed Al Sabri said.
Three people died and 15 were wounded in the capital on Tuesday when Saleh supporters clashed with protesters, the Defence Ministry said. General Mohsen said the incident was an attempt to assassinate him. A statement said Mohsen came out to meet a delegation of tribal mediators sent by Saleh and snipers then opened fire. “The issue appeared to be a trick to assassinate Ali Mohsen, intermediaries and a group of tribal sheikhs,” it said.
Some diplomats in Saudi Arabia have suggested Riyadh wants Mohsen to replace Saleh, though the General has said he is not interested in taking power. Civil society opposition groups say Mohsen, 70, an Islamist, is tainted by his kinship and long-time association with the veteran ruler. A 2005 US diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks said: “Ali Mohsen would likely face domestic as well as international opposition if he sought the presidency… Yemenis generally view him as cynical and self-interested.”
More than 100 people have been killed since anti-government protests began in Yemen, including the March 18 killings of 52 anti-government protesters in Sanaa. Reuters