Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Yemen president to convene parliament ahead of demo

Observed by: Mr. Alaa Isam

Yemen's president, facing demands that he resign, has called for a meeting of parliament and the consultative council, as the opposition has declared that it is "too late" for dialogue and that he he must go.

Ali Abdullah Saleh is expected to address the special meeting ahead of a "day of rage" that civil society organisations have called for Thursday, an official said without providing details of what the president would say.

Facing protests that have multiplied since the mid-January ouster of Tunisia's president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali following a wave of demonstrations there, Saleh has taken measures aimed at soothing popular discontent.

On Monday, after increasing wages and reducing incomes taxes, he ordered the creation of a fund to employ university graduates and to extend social security coverage.

Unemployment was a key issue in the protests that toppled Ben Ali.

Saleh also decided to exempt university students from the rest of their tuition fees for this academic year, and charged the high council of universities to reduce the cost of a degree, Saba said.

A governing body of Saleh's General People's Congress party called on Friday for a resumption of dialogue with opposition parties, which are currently at an impasse.

Talks on political reform has stalled since the authorities' decision to hold legislative elections on April 27, without awaiting the dialogue outcome, and a special committee set up to oversee reform has met only once.

"I'm afraid that it has become too late for dialogue as ... People are no longer demanding dialogue," said Mohammed al-Sabri, a leader in the Common Forum, a parliamentary opposition alliance.

Yemenis are now calling for "changing the regime and the ouster of the president." They also want an end to "the unilateral action taken over the constitution and the elections."

Yemenis, who have been protesting on a nearly daily basis in Sanaa since mid-January, have called for a nationwide "Day of Rage" on Thursday.

The opposition has no choice left but to call for "change ... beginning with the president," said Sabri who appealed to the army to back the people.

If passed by parliament, a draft amendment of the constitution, could allow Saleh, who has been president for decades and was re-elected for a seven-year mandate in September 2006, to remain in office for life.

Saleh had urged the opposition, which rejects the amendment, to take part in April 27 parliamentary elections to avoid "political suicide."

The mandate of the current parliament was extended by two years to April under a February 2009 agreement between the GPC and opposition parties to allow dialogue on political reform.

The reforms on the table included a shift from a presidential regime to a proportional representation parliamentary system and further decentralisation of government -- measures that have not been implemented.

Meanwhile, GPC spokesman Tareq al-Shami told AFP that his party has "decided to take to the streets (on Wednesday) to protect the people from the deception carried out" by the opposition.

Shami, who said the GPC will abide by whatever decision is reached through dialogue, added that his party's "biggest concern is to go ahead with the (April) elections."

He accused the opposition of "trying to take advantage of what happened in Egypt and Tunisia."

A popular uprising in Tunisia saw the downfall of its strongman Ben Ali on January 14, and demonstrations in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak, in power since 1981, have been ongoing for over a week killing an estimated 300 people.

But "by no doubt that we have learned a lesson from what happened in Tunisia and what's going on in Egypt ... we are trying to work more on responding to the people's demands within our country's capabilities," he said.

However, Shami warned that the consequences of any move similar to that in Egypt or Tunisia "will not only affect Yemen but its aftermath will extend to other countries in the region."

Source: http://yhoo.it/dUZ4qu

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