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Western Governments Back Saleh’s Initiative

The U.S. ambassador to Yemen said on Friday the reform initiative of President Ali Abdullah Saleh is paving a strong ground for the opposition to resume dialogue as the demands to overthrow his 33-year rule would not be a real solution to the country’s woes.

“The idea of the president’s downfall is not a real solution to the country’s woes,” U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein said in an interview with the state daily al-Syasiah.

“Saleh’s reform initiatives as well as his pledges to not re- elect himself after his presidential term expires in 2013 nor to hand over power to his son are paving a strong ground for the opposition to resume dialogue,” he said.

“If President Saleh leaves, then what do you do on the next day? ” said Feierstein, adding that there were several other ideas on the table about how Yemen shall develop in the future. “We agree with some of these ideas and disagree with some others,” he said without naming those ideas.

Meanwhile, EU called for all Yemeni political parties to positively respond to the Thursday’s reform initiative of President Saleh, urging them to engage in an open and constructive dialogue.

“I have listened carefully to the announcement made by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in which he made proposals for constitutional reform and elections,” the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission Catherine Ashton said in a statement issued from Brussels.

“I see this announcement as a step forward, and call on all parties to engage without delay in an open and constructive dialogue, so that proposals can be fulfilled as soon as possible into concrete steps to respond to the demands of the people,” she said.

“The EU will continue to follow the situation in Yemen very closely, and stands ready to continue supporting Yemeni efforts to press ahead with reforms,” Ashton added.

After a series of concessions offered to the opposition, Saleh on Thursday launched more conciliation initiative, promising to hold a referendum on the constitution this year, including a new election law, to prepare to transfer power to the parliament, which was swiftly rejected by the opposition, saying it came too late.

Inspired by Tunisian and Egyptian protests, demonstrations demanding the immediate ouster of veteran President Saleh have swelled in major provinces, including the capital Sanaa, since mid February as skirmishes took place between protesters and the police forces, leaving dozens dead, mostly in southern provinces.

The government said that while security forces are busy protecting the protests, al-Qaida wing on Friday gunned down four more policemen on a patrol vehicle in southeast province of Hadramout, bringing the death toll of security and army personnel targeted by the terrorist group to 20 since Feb. 11.

US President Barack Obama’s top anti-terror advisor John Brennan on Friday called Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh to welcome his pledge to devolve power and urged the opposition to support the plan.

The call, the latest of a series of contacts between the White House and key anti-terror ally Yemen since a popular revolt erupted, followed a major concession by Saleh designed to end the political crisis.

“Brennan reiterated that representatives of all sectors of the Yemeni opposition should respond constructively to President Saleh?s call to engage in a serious dialogue to end the current impasse,” the White House said in a statement.

“Brennan noted that the government and the opposition share responsibility for achieving a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

“Brennan also stated that a commitment by all sides to participate in an open and transparent process that addresses the legitimate concerns of the Yemeni people provides an orderly path to a stronger and more prosperous nation.”

The White House said that Saleh reiterated his hope that the opposition will take part in an immediate dialogue.

Saleh on Thursday bowed to pressure after a month of violent protests, but his pledge to devolve power to parliament was swiftly rejected as too late by the opposition.

He also ordered his security forces to ensure the safety of anti-government protesters after weeks of unrest in which some 30 people have been killed, part of a wave of popular unrest across the Arab world.

He said he would hold a “referendum before the end of the year on a new constitution clearly stipulating the separation of powers” between the president and the parliament.

The new charter would “install a parliamentary regime giving all executive powers to a government elected by parliament,” he added.

US involvement in Yemen, including special forces advisors, has depended entirely on Saleh, who has dominated the country since coming to power in a military coup in 1978. He became president of a reunified Yemen in 1990.

courtesy Agencies

Washington has expressed concern about violence but Obama’s administration has not pressured Saleh to leave office in the way it leaned on Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak before his ouster.