U.N. envoy says Yemen power transfer deal in place

SANAA Tue Nov 22, 2011 6:20pm GMT

Anti-government protesters march during a demonstration to demand the ouster and trial of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa November 22, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

Anti-government protesters march during a demonstration to demand the ouster and trial of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa November 22, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

SANAA (Reuters)- A U.N. envoy said on Tuesday a deal on power transfer in Yemen had been reached and details on signing the accord were being worked out, but three previous deals looked wrapped up before President Ali Abdullah Saleh backed out at the last minute.

A Yemeni official said a notable obstacle to signing the pact was coming from senior politicians in Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) strongly opposed to signing the accord.

"We have an agreement. We're working out the signing," United Nations envoy Jamal Benomar, who has been shuttling between the two sides, told reporters in Sanaa.

A Western diplomat confirmed an agreement on power handover has been reached but said Benomar was still discussing details related to its signing. He was expected to meet Saleh later on Tuesday to hammer out details -- a stage at which deals have foundered previously.

Under a plan crafted by Yemen's six Gulf Arab neighbours, Saleh would transfer his powers to his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, ahead of an early election.

However, Saleh has repeatedly failed to sign the deal, which aims to end months of protests that have paralysed the country and engendered chaos that has bolstered al Qaeda militants next door to Saudi Arabia, the world's No. 1 oil exporter.

The Yemeni official, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Saleh was trying to reassure officials in his party to get them to drop opposition to the accord and to "convince them that the GCC plan is the best way forward."

POTENTIAL OBSTRUCTION

The official also said that renegade general Ali Mohsen, who broke away from the Yemeni army after protests began in February, and tribal leader Sadeq al-Ahmar, who are not part of the accord, may try to obstruct it.

Officials from an alliance of opposition parties and a source in the GPC said on Monday that a deal had been reached, and that the accord would be signed on Tuesday.

Under the accord, Saleh would keep the title of president after handing all of his powers to Hadi, who will form a new national unity government with the opposition and call an early presidential election within three months.

More than 10 months of protests aimed at ending Saleh's 33-year rule have rekindled conflicts with Islamist militants and separatists during the political deadlock, threatening anarchy. Those fears are shared by Saleh's erstwhile U.S. backers, who made him a cornerstone of their campaign against al Qaeda, and have brokered negotiations on implementing the Gulf plan.

Yemeni tribesmen battling forces loyal to Saleh in the Arhab region north of the capital said they attacked government positions on Tuesday and were shelled in return.

Activists in the southern city of Taiz, a hotbed of anti-Saleh protests and sporadic clashes between his forces and tribal militias, said a demonstrator was killed by mortar fire from troops loyal to Saleh.

Shipping sources and traders said on Tuesday Yemen was seeking additional fuel imports due to the shutdown of the largest fuel refinery, in the southern city of Aden, following attacks on its main feed pipeline in October.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Humeyra Pamuk, writing by Sami Aboudi, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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