Yemen opposition meets to elect council to take power

SANAA, Aug 17, 2011 (AFP) - Yemen's opposition met on Wednesday to elect a "national council" aiming to take over power from President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in Riyadh for 10 weeks recovering from a bomb blast.

"The national council will lead the forces of the revolution, determined to stand strong until Ali Abdullah Saleh's departure," said a key opposition leader, Soltan al-Atwani.

The opposition hopes to unite the parties of the Common Forum, which includes the influential Islamist Al-Islah (reform) party, with the young protesters at the forefront of anti-regime protests since January.

The council would also include representatives of civil society, members of the secessionist Southern Movement, and the northern Shiite Huthi rebels, as well as independent activists.

"In forming this council, the opposition would sign the death certificate of the Gulf proposal" for a power transfer, warned a spokesman of Saleh's ruling General People's Congress (GPC), Tariq al-Shami.

"With this, they prove they are not for a peaceful solution but are trying to overthrow the constitutional legitimacy," he told AFP.

The president who has been in office since 1978 and whose current term runs out in 2013, insists that the Gulf proposal should be implemented "in accordance with the constitution."

The deal proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council in April stipulates that Saleh submit his resignation to parliament 30 days after passing power to his vice president, in return from immunity fromm prosecution.

It tasks the opposition with forming a national unity government, in which the GPC and opposition would be equally represented. Presidential elections would follow two months later.

The deal faltered in May after Saleh kept delaying, and in early June he was flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment after being wounded in a bomb attack on his Sanaa presidential compound.

The opposition meeting was held at a hall in Sanaa University amid tight security enforced by the army's First Armoured Division led by General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who defected to the opposition in March.

The regime has threatened to shell the square outside the university where anti-Saleh protesters have camped since February if the council is formed, according to activists at the square.

Ahmar's troops are deployed to protect the protesters, of whom 200 people have been killed nationwide in clashes with security forces and Saleh supporters since the end of January.

Saleh in an televised speech on Tuesday vowed to return home "soon" and mocked the parliamentary opposition as figures of "narrow interests" who had stolen the slogans of Yemen's protesting youth in their lust for power.

"The announcement of his return is the announcement of sedition" in Yemen, was the reaction from Atwani, who accused Saleh of leading the deeply tribal country into "civil war" and criticised Riyadh for having allowed his speech.

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