UN envoy: Yemen president should transfer power

November 14, 2011 - 4:40 PM
Mideast Yemen

A supporter of Yemen's President Ali Abduallah Saleh, seen in a poster, waves Yemen's flag and chants slogans during a rally to show support for Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen, Friday, Nov. 11, 2011. Yemeni security forces fired tank and artillery shells at a restive central city on Friday, killing several people, including women and a nine-year-old boy, a medical official said. Violence has escalated in the Arab world's poorest country following nearly nine months of a popular uprising seeking to oust longtime autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen's embattled president must speed up reforms and begin a transfer of power according to a plan backed by the international community, said a U.N. envoy on Monday.

Jamal Benomar visited Yemen for a week to promote a Gulf-backed proposal that calls for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to transfer power to his vice president in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Saleh told a TV interviewer that he will sign, but he did not say when.

Saleh has resisted the proposal despite nearly nine months of protests against his 30-year rule. Several times he said he would sign, only to back away at the last minute. Months of international diplomacy has failed to resolve the crisis.

Benomar held meetings with opposition figures on Monday, including Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who leads a military unit of defectors siding with the opposition and protecting protesters.

Earlier in his trip, Benomar met with Saleh and his deputy.

In a rare interview with foreign media, Saleh told the TV channel France 24 that he would sign the Gulf-backed package, but he would not say when that would happen or what was preventing him from doing so, vaguely noting that there was no time mechanism in the accord. The interview was broadcast late Monday.

"Definitely, definitely," Saleh replied when asked if he intended to leave power. "I believe that anyone who grips on to power is crazy." He said he would step down 90 days after the agreement goes into effect, but he did not say when that would be.

Mediators and opposition figures have become exasperated with what they see as Saleh's stalling tactics.

He said that the media was lying when reporting he refused to sign the agreement. He accused armed militias of infiltrating peaceful demonstrations in Yemeni cities.

Pro-Saleh forces regularly engage in deadly clashes with armed tribesmen and military defectors who support the protesters in Yemen's largest cities, and al-Qaida-linked militants have taken control of entire towns in the country's restive south.

Security has collapsed across the Arab world's poorest nation during the nine-month popular uprising.