Yemen formin dismisses Arab revolt contagion fears

Yemen's foreign minister dismissed talk of his country falling into similar political crises as Tunisia and Egypt, saying that unlike the two Arab countries, Yemen's government has always had dialogue with the opposition.

In an interview to be aired on France 24 later on Tuesday Abubakr al-Qirbi called speculation about President Ali Abdullah Saleh being the next Arab leader to face revolt a "guessing game" and that recent demonstrations in Yemen were not new.

"I don't think it's a true statement (Saleh being next)," Qirbi said during a visit to Paris. "The demonstrations that took place last Thursday were not the first. We've been having (them) for almost two years."

Tens of thousands of Yemenis took part in peaceful protests for and against the government during an opposition-led "Day of Rage," a day after Saleh offered to step down in 2013.

The opposition drew more than 20,000 people in Sanaa, the biggest crowd since a wave of demonstrations hit the poor Arabian Peninsula state two weeks ago, inspired by protests that toppled Tunisia's ruler and now threaten Egypt's president.

"The government gives them the right to demonstrate," Qirbi, who has been in his post for about 10 years, said." The most important thing in Yemen, unlike the Tunisian and Egyptian governments, is that the ruling party has never broken relations with the opposition."

Yemen, a key US ally in the fight against al-Qaeda, is one of the poorest countries in the world with more than 40 percent of its 23 million people living on less than $2 a day.

After a Yemen-based arm of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the botched bombing of a U.S.-bound airliner in 2009, fears have grown that Yemen could unravel into a failed state allowing extremist groups to thrive and launch attacks.

It is also trying to quell southern separatism and cement peace with Shi'ite rebels in the north.

"The majority of Arabs are younger, have aspirations and a different way of thinking and more exposure to the world that I did at that age so it will influence their attitudes. Most of them are university graduates, unemployed and looking for a future."

The U.S. embassy in Yemen has called on the opposition to refrain from "provocative action" and to talk to the government.

Saleh has backed out of previous promises to step aside. Analysts say his pledge to step down could be a genuine way to exit gracefully but he may hope to wait out regional unrest and reassert dominance another day.

Qirbi said there were two areas where the government and opposition were in talks including a move toward proportional representation, decentralization and greater authority for local governments, but said it would take both sides time to establish the correct process.

"The culture is still young as far as elections go," Qirbi said.

AFP

Other news