Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced Wednesday (March 23rd) he would accept a five-point roadmap proposed by the opposition last month.
The roadmap calls on Saleh to step down by the end of 2011 and calls for early parliamentary and presidential elections. Saleh said previously he would not resign until 2013 when his current term expires.
The opposition said Saleh's acceptance of the demands is too late. Mohammed Saleh al-Qabatti, head of the political bureau of the Yemeni Social Party, which is a member of the opposition Joint Meeting Parties, told Al-Shorfa, "Time has run out for the roadmap, which would have guaranteed an honourable exit for the president, but he turned it down."
Al-Qabatti said ongoing demonstrations have changed the equation, and as a result, the opposition has increased its demands. He said the president should "step down now through measures guaranteeing an honourable exit and at the same time, meet the demands of the people".
Saleh announced a state of emergency Friday after 52 people were killed during clashes in Change square between demonstrators and government supporters. Citizens were prohibited from carrying weapons in public for 30 days. On Wednesday Parliament approved imposition of the state of emergency for a 30-day period during a special session. Only one member voted against the declaration, and questions were raised by opposition figures about whether a quorum was present. Only 164 parliament members attended the session, but there are 301 total members.
Mohammed al-Sabri, spokesman for the Preparatory Committee for National Dialogue, an opposition group, told Al-Shorfa, "The current parliament had no legitimacy to agree on the imposition of a state of emergency." He said parliament lost its popular and constitutional legitimacy in 2009, and that the extension of its term was the product of a political consensus that was made to preserve the national interest.
"The text of the constitution states that the imposition of a state of emergency must be based on the emergency law, and we do not have an emergency law," he said.
Al-Sabri added, "The state of emergency does not concern the opposition and is considered a dead declaration by a dead regime. The source of authority is the people, and the people are outside in public squares calling for the departure of the president, not the imposition of a state of emergency."
On Tuesday, Saleh warned that efforts to topple his presidency could lead to civil war.
During a meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, he said individuals who are seeking to assume power through a coup should realise that doing so is "out of the question" because the country would not be stable with a leader who acquired power by such means. He said such a move would lead to civil war.
Saleh's warning followed the announcement by dozens of army leaders that they were supporting the protesters who are demanding that Saleh resign immediately. Leaders in the ruling Congress Party and senior government positions also resigned to protest Friday's clashes.
During the meeting Saleh said, "I say clearly to the brother officers (who resigned) as a result of weakness and media intimidation. The media has terrorized them until they fell like autumn leaves, and they shall regret it," Saleh said in a speech which was later broadcast on state television.
Media reports indicated that Yemeni officials were considering a Saudi initiative that included holding presidential elections within six months as a solution to overcome the current crisis.
The proposal was introduced after Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi visited King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia on Monday where he delivered a message from Saleh.
The opposition was quick to declare its rejection of the initiative. Mohammed Qahtan, official spokesman for the Joint Meeting Parties told Al-Shorfa, "There is no room for any initiatives especially after the bloodshed that occurred in Sanaa Friday."
Qahtan added, "The situation in Yemen is moving toward a peaceful popular revolution, especially since the army leaders’ support balances the scale."
Regarding the possibility of civil war, Qahtan emphasised that the demonstrations would remain peaceful until the end and would not lead to a military coup. He said, "In the event of a civil war, the president and his allies are the ones who would use arms."
Tariq al-Shami, spokesman for the ruling Congress Party, told Al-Shorfa that any coup attempt against constitutional legitimacy could trigger a civil war. He called on the opposition and dissidents to obtain power through constitutional means and elections.
In response to the new Saudi initiative, al-Shami said, "We welcome any initiative ensuring a smooth transition of power through constitutional and legitimate means independent of coups, chaos and sabotage."
On Monday evening and Tuesday morning, thousands of demonstrators crowded Change Square in Sanaa demanding that Saleh issue a final statement of resignation, according to Ahmed Shabah, a member of the Media Committee for the Youth Revolution Coalition, who spoke with Al-Shorfa.
Saleh described the leaders who announced support for the demonstrators as "climbers to the chair of power." In response, leaders among the demonstrators said in a statement broadcast in Change Square that officials who joined the peaceful revolution is not a declaration of a coup, "because the era of coups has past."
They said they are committed to peaceful demonstrations and are committed to protecting the protesters.
Observers said the decision by prominent military leaders to support the demonstrators has positive and negative implications for the opposition.
Sadeq Nasher, a political analyst, contended that some of the army's divisions and top leaders joining the youth revolution is, to a large extent, a guarantee that today’s crisis in the country will not be prolonged and that the revolution will be accomplished quickly.
Nasher expressed fear of a split in the army, saying, "Many realise the seriousness of this division unless Saleh moves to provide a genuine, clear initiative, through which he specifies a date for the handover of power to a Council of Wise men, a transitional council or a national unity government in which all parties in political life are represented, first and foremost the representatives of the youth revolution."
Abdul Aziz Awdah, an analyst and a columnist, told Al-Shorfa that the army leaders who joined the opposition will create a balance of power between the government and the opposition.
He expressed displeasure over the possibility that the demonstrations would turn into an instrument used by the opposition and Army leaders, saying, "The revolution would be stolen with the involvement of these leaders."
Meanwhile, army tanks and armoured vehicles deployed in the vicinity of the Republican Palace, the Ministry of Defence, the Central Bank, the Credit Bank and the headquarters of the ruling party.
On Tuesday, troops from the First Armoured Division also took positions at the entrances to the protest square near Sanaa University to protect protesters after Friday's clashes.