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03/02/2011 | The Next Domino?: Yemeni President Promises to Quit in 2013

Spiegel Staff

Protests in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired the opposition movement in Yemen, which has now scored a significant success. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced that he would not try to extend his presidency past 2013. But the opposition plans to go ahead with a "day of rage" on Thursday.

 

Predictions of a "domino effect" in the Arab world after the fall of the Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali appear to be coming true. In addition to the ongoing revolt in Egypt, and the King of Jordan's decision to fire his cabinet in the interest of "true democratic reforms," protests in Yemen have now also had an effect.

On Wednesday, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced that he would not try to stay in power beyond his current term, which ends in 2013. In a statement to parliament, he declared that he did not want to pass power on to his son. There will be "no extension, no inheritance, no resetting the clock," said the president, who has been in power for over 30 years. "I present these concessions in the interests of the country (which) come before our personal interests," he said. He also called on the opposition to "freeze all planned protests, rallies and sit-ins."

The opposition had earlier announced it would hold a "day of rage" on Thursday, following similar protests in Tunisia and Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of people were expected to take part in street protests.

The country's biggest opposition party welcomed Saleh's statement but said Thursday's rally would continue as planned. "We consider this initiative positive and we await the next concrete steps," said Mohammed al-Saadi from the Islamist Islah party. "As for our plan for a rally tomorrow, the plan stands and it will be organized and orderly. This is a peaceful struggle through which the people can make their voices heard and express their aspirations."

Popular Unrest

There were already fresh demonstrations on Tuesday, organized by an alliance of the country's opposition parties known as the Common Forum, with tens of thousands of people marching through the capital Sana'a. "Yesterday Tunisia, today Egypt, tomorrow Yemen," is a slogan of the protest movement, which aims to capitalize on the revolutionary mood in the region. Tens of thousands of people also took to the streets on a number of days in January.

The 68-year-old president has been in power since 1978, when he became president of North Yemen. He became president of the Republic of Yemen after unification with South Yemen in 1990. He was last reelected in September 2006.

Saleh's term was originally due to end in 2013, but tensions in the country increased after the parliament, which is dominated by Saleh's General People's Congress party, voted in favor of a draft amendment of the constitution. If passed, it would have allowed Saleh to stay in office for life.

Before Wednesday's announcement, Saleh had already taken measures to quell popular discontent, including offering smaller concessions on presidential term limits. He had also pledged to raise the salaries of civil servants and the military, reduce income taxes and extend social security coverage.

A Failing State

Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world. Around 40 percent of the population lives on less that $2 (€1.44) per day, with one-third of the population suffering from chronic hunger. The unemployment rate currently stands at 35 percent, and the country is also struggling to deal with high unemployment and dwindling oil and water reserves.

Western observers are watching developments in the country, which is on the road to becoming a failed state, with concern. Al-Qaida has established strongholds in parts of Yemen, and Saleh is regarded as a close ally of the US in the war on terror. Saleh's government is also waging an on-again-off-again war against the Shiite minority in the north in addition to dealing with an increasingly violent separatist movement in the south.

Spiegel (Alemania)

 


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