Yemeni President Caves, Proposes Constitutional Reform
Breaking with zeitgeist of dollars for quiet embraced by most leaders in the Arab Gulf states, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh pledged on Thursday to bring a new constitution to a vote by the end of the year and transfer government power to an elected parliamentary system, CNN reports.
In a nationally broadcast speech, Saleh announced, "We have communicated the demands of all the youth demonstrators to the government because they are the future, and the government will fulfill all their demands without strikes, clashes, or chaos," Saleh said in a nationally broadcast speech.
The president's plan also called for the creation of a unity government to review new election laws. Saleh, has ruled Yemen for 32 years, refused to step down, but has said he will not run for the presidency again. But the presidents plan has not been well received by the opposition, who have dismissed the initiative as "too little, too late," according to the New York Times.
"It's like someone trying to score a goal from behind the net," Mohammed Qahtan, spokesman for the opposition coalition Joint Meeting Parties. "Whatever he does is useless."
The Yemeni Embassy in Washington DC issued a statement expressing the government's disappointment with the opposition's rejection of Saleh's "initiative aimed at political and national reconciliation."
Protests in Yemen have left at least 30 people dead, according to Amnesty International. The human rights monitoring group urged Yemeni authorities to put an end to "deadly night raids and other attacks on protests."
"We have credible allegations that thousands of peaceful protesters faced live fire by Yemen's military outside Harf Sufyan and that two unarmed civilians paid with their lives," said Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch.
"Yemenis will not accept what the president said today," human rights advocate Khaled Al-Anesi said. "Too many protesters have died and the president is treating this and talking about all this like a storm that will pass. People will continue to protest and more and more will continue to demand his resignation and we won't stop until he is forced to leave office."
Domestic and foreign journalists covering local unrest have been both threatened and abused. Al-Arabiya correspondent Jamal Noman was assaulted in Sanaa by a police officer a local journalist told the Committee to Protect Journalists. The following day Al-Jazeera correspondent Ahmad al-Shalafi was threatened on the phone. One caller said his children would be kidnapped if he continued his critical reporting, the committee reported.
Yemen's anti-government demonstrations are unfolding in a nation wracked by a Shiite Muslim uprising, a US-aided crackdown on al Qaeda operatives, and a looming shortage of water. The United States expressed quiet concern about Saleh’s death-grip on power, but have not pressured him publicly, perhaps because its primary concern is continued counter-terrorism efforts in an increasingly precarious country.
Saleh's sudden and uncharacteristic embrace of reforms comes as protests mount in the face of continued attempts by the Yemeni government to crack down, and may prove to be a portent of things to come for Saudi officials who launched their own crackdown today.