Mass protests in Yemen, Opposition demands Saleh resignation

Anti-government protesters perform the weekly Friday prayers during a rally to demand the ouster and trial of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southern city of Taiz 18 November 2011. (Photo: REUTERS - Khaled Abdullah)

Published Friday, November 18, 2011

Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters marched in Sanaa, Yemen on Friday, as the opposition rejected negotiations with President Ali Abdullah Saleh until he resigns.

Gathering for Friday prayers, protesters chanted, "The martyrs wrote with blood, Saleh must be tried."

Demonstrators commemorated the women killed since pro-democracy protests began in February this year, marking the day "Friday of Female Martyrs of the Revolution."

An opposition leader urged the UN to refer Saleh to the International Criminal Court over crimes against humanity committed throughout this year's uprising.

■ Photoblog | Yemen: Friday of Female Martyrs of the Revolution

"We call on the Security Council to impose sanctions on President Saleh and to refer him to the ICC," said Fued Dahaba, from the opposition Islamist party Al-Islah, leading weekly Muslim prayers near Sanaa's Change Square.

The mass protests come as UN envoy Jamal Benomar tries to break a deadlock between the opposition and Saleh over the Yemeni leader's reluctance to leave power.

The National Council of the Yemeni Opposition said following a meeting on Friday that it refuses to negotiate with Saleh until he signs a Gulf initiative designed to remove Saleh from power after 33 years in office.

"No talk about any mechanism before Saleh signs the Gulf initiative," the opposition said in a statement.

The opposition accuses Saleh of seeking changes to the Gulf initiative - backed by a UN Security Council resolution - which would enable him to retain most of his powers during a transitional period.

The deeply unpopular autocrat has repeatedly agreed to regional and international proposals for him to surrender power, only to renege on the agreements and retain power.

The impoverished Gulf state has seen an upsurge of violence in the last month, with local medics saying 51 people were killed in Taiz in this period alone.

Yemen is teetering on civil war as Saleh baulks at resigning, frustrating opposition and protesters who demand his immediate resignation.

Protesters continued to call on the Arab League to suspend Yemen's membership, following in the footsteps of similar action taken by the regional body against Syria.

"We urge the Arab League to freeze Yemen's membership, as it did with the Syrian regime, and recognize the National Council as the legitimate representative," a Muslim preacher said at the rally.

The Arab League has yet to respond to such calls. Yemen borders the oil rich and Arab heavyweight, Saudi Arabia, rendering it unlikely that punitive action will be taken against Saleh by the regional body.

(al-Akhbar, Reuters, AFP)

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