President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled his troubled nation for more than three decades, has tentatively agreed to a five-point plan from opposition leaders that includes the demand that he step down by the end of the year, according to the president’s office.
Opposition figures and Saleh have reached “an initial agreement,” said presidential spokesman Mohammed al-Basha. It was unclear whether Saleh, who was meeting with opposition leaders Wednesday night, would try to modify the proposal in order to remain in office until presidential elections in 2013.
Saleh’s departure would dramatically alter Yemen’s political landscape. It has been struggling with a secessionist movement in the south, rebels in the north, and an active al-Qaeda network. The United States has long been concerned that Islamic extremists might exploit a political vacuum in a country dominated by tribes and plagued by corruption, poverty, and malnutrition.
It is uncertain whether Saleh’s leaving his post in nine months would calm tens of thousands of protesters who for weeks have called for his immediate overthrow. He has already made concessions, including promises that he would not seek reelection, that his son would not succeed him, and that he would stem widespread government corruption.
Saleh has broken similar promises in the past, and his assurances have largely fallen on deaf ears. But he is under increasing strain as tribes, religious leaders, students, workers, and others have not relented in pressuring him to resign.
The opposition plan would also require that Saleh take indirect responsibility for the deaths of 27 protesters killed by security forces and government loyalists in the last three weeks, though he has repeatedly scoffed at doing so.
The five-point plan calls for a peaceful transition of power and stipulates that all Yemenis, both inside and outside the country, should be involved in discussions to form a new government. It ensures that all Yemenis are free to protest peacefully, that a committee should be formed to investigate the attacks against protesters, and that the government would compensate the families of protesters who died.
Saleh offered a conciliatory gesture Monday that called for a power-sharing government until the presidential elections. The opposition rejected that, saying any feasible road map for a peaceful transition of power must require he step down immediately. Wednesday’s opposition plan, however, sidestepped that demand, a move that may hurt its support among protesters.
“I think it’s a big mistake,” said Khaled Anesi, a human-rights lawyer involved in the protests. “The opposition will lose the people on the street.”
Ahmed Fahkil, a San’a University student, voiced upset. “Haven’t we suffered long enough? We can’t begin to build a new democracy while he is still at the head of the regime,” he said.
In Washington, the White House said Saleh had called John Brennan, homeland security adviser to President Obama, Wednesday “to convey his regret for misunderstandings related to his public remarks” Tuesday blaming the United States and Israel for the turmoil in the Arab world. Saleh, who has been assisting U.S. officials in battling al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, had said in a fiery speech that the antigovernment protests in his nation were being “run by the White House.”
Brennan “expressed appreciation for the call,” according to the White House, “and said that any comments that seek to attribute blame for recent developments in the region are unhelpful, as they ignore the legitimate aspirations of people in the Arab world.”