GCC urges Yemenis to sign pact, welcomes Jordan, Morocco requests to join bloc


The summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh on Tuesday called on Yemenis of all persuasions to accept and sign a Gulf-brokered deal that would lead to the exit of Ali Abdullah Saleh from the country’s presidency.

The six-Member GCC also welcomed requests by non-Gulf monarchies such as Jordan and Morocco join the council.

“The council urged the all parties in Yemen to sign the agreement, which is the best way out of the crisis and spare the country further political division and deterioration of security,” GCC leaders said in a joint statement after the summit.

It was not the first time that GCC leaders have appealed to various factions in Yemen’s fraught polity to end their conflict and sign a GCC-brokered deal.

President Saleh has refused to sign the deal which requires him to step down within a month but which also guarantees him legal immunity. A shrewd politician, he has strung GCC leaders along with his coyness and diffidence: Mr. Saleh’s latest position is the agreement would be signed by one of his party’s senior member, something that would be acceptable to neither the GCC nor the Yemeni opposition.

Meanwhile, according to Reuters, Yemeni air force planes on Tuesday bombed rural areas where tribesmen demanding the resignation of Mr. Saleh live.

The tribesmen warned that violence gripping the divided state might be escalating.

The other highlight of the GCC summit was the desire of Jordan and Morocco to join the grouping.

“Leaders of the GCC welcomed the request of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to join the council and instructed the foreign ministers to enter into negotiations to complete the procedures,” Agence-France-Presse reported GCC’s secretary general Abdullatif al-Zayani as saying.

If the GCC expands, it would conceivably change the character of the organization, which was formed on May 26, 1981 to strengthen economic and political cooperation among members, most of who are oil-producing countries. Royal or tribal families rule the six members. Neither Jordan nor Morocco produces significant quantities of oil.

If they become GCC members, they would bring to the organization politics that is generally alien to that of Gulf countries. For example, Jordan is deeply involved with Iraq and Syria, the latter currently marked by continuing pro-democracy protests. (Jordan also has had its share of such protests.) Morocco has unresolved territorial disputes with neighboring Algeria, which assists the Polisario Front. The Polisario claims the disputed territory of Western Sahara, from which Spain withdrew in 1976, but Morocco has largely occupied it. The United Nations wants a referendum, for which numerous attempts have failed.

In Yemen on Tuesday, President Saleh’s planes bombed an area north of the capital Sana’a where tens of thousands of protesters have been rallying daily to demand an end to Mr. Saleh’s nearly 33-year authoritarian rule. At least four tribesmen were wounded in the raid, a resident told Reuters.

Tribesmen also told Reuters that the Republican Guard, led by Mr. Saleh’s son, had been trying to pass through the tribal area en route to the southern coastal province of Hadhramaut, where one of several army units that have defected is based.

The tribesmen have had violent clashes with President Saleh’s troops in recent weeks, residents said. The jets stopped bombing after a few hours, tribesmen said, and the Republican Guard agreed with the tribesmen not to send troops to Hadhramaut.

Opposition sources had complained that troops were being sent to Hadhramaut to crush protests there.

Yemen’s opposition groups on Tuesday awaited word on whether Gulf Arab States could revive a deal to edge President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power within a month as more protests dominated the Arabian Peninsula country.

President Saleh, who refused to sign the transition deal, has clung to power despite three months of street protests that regularly draw tens of thousands of people, even though many of his allies have deserted him including a general who has backed protesters.

Yemeni forces fired at protesters blockading a government building on Monday, killing a shopkeeper and three protesters in Taez, a city that has seen some of the largest demonstrations against President Saleh, witnesses said.

Security forces, some in armored vehicles, moved in to disperse the protest, wounding at least 80 protesters in the industrial city.

“A large force of police and army attacked protesters and then chased them in residential areas. They opened fire and used tear gas heavily,” said Bushra al-Maqtari, an activist in Taez, told Agence-France Presse.

A shopkeeper who ran a small kiosk was killed by a stray bullet, and two protesters were also shot dead amid heavy gunfire as security forces tried to disperse a protest near the education ministry, a doctor treating the wounded said.

A third protester later died of his wounds, the doctor said.

Thousands of demonstrators in Taez shouted anti-Saleh slogans and demanded the postponement of school exams, while protests erupted elsewhere in the impoverished country that the 65-year-old president has ruled for nearly 33 years.

Clashes were reported in the Red Sea port city of Hudaida, where security forces stormed a university campus to break up protests, wounding six, activists said. Six more people were wounded in clashes in Dhamar province, south of Sana’a, according to Reuters.

Yemens opposition coalition, which includes Islamists and leftists, said it still had hope that Yemen's wealthy Gulf neighbors could bring the deal to end the crisis back to the negotiating table.

“The Gulf initiative is the last initiative the opposition can work with. We are waiting for decisions of the Gulf summit, and based on that we will take a decision,” said Sultan al-Atwani, a senior opposition leader.

“We expect the Gulf leadership to stick to the initiative as it is, and if that does not happen then we will meet to decide what (move) to take,” he said.

The opposition had said the deal, which Mr. Saleh refused to sign on April 30 in a last-minute reversal, was modified to let President Saleh sign as party leader rather than president, as he demands. But Mr. Atwani said the opposition did not accept those changes.

The opposition now wants the Gulf States to raise the pressure on Mr. Saleh to commit to a transition. Yemeni youth groups leading mass protests have called on the Gulf States, under the umbrella of the Gulf Cooperation Council, to withdraw the plan.

Many demonstrators across Yemen—who include students, tribesmen and activists—have vowed to stay on the streets until President Saleh goes. At least 154 have been killed in the unrest.

“We expect the Gulf leadership to take a practical position on the distortions of President Saleh and supporting the choices of the Yemeni people,” Mr. Atwani said.

(Dina Al-Shibeeb of Al Arabiya can be reached at: [email protected] Abeer Tayel of Al Arabiya can be reached at: [email protected])