U.N. council calls on Saleh to step down, Yemenis take to streets of Sana’a

Anti-government protesters chant slogans during a demonstration to demand the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sana’a. (Photo by Reuters)

The U.N. Security Council on Friday passed a resolution calling on Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh to sign a deal under which he would quit and to end deadly attacks on protesters.

The resolution, unanimously agreed by the 15 members, “strongly condemns” government violence against demonstrators and backs a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) peace plan under which Saleh would end his 33 years in power.

But, according to Reuters, the resolution offered no details on how accountability could be achieved if there is an immunity deal for Saleh and those close to him based on the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, which would protect them from prosecution for the months-long government crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Yemen.

Several hundred people have been killed since protests against Saleh erupted in January.

The Security Council’s strongest pronouncement yet on the Yemen crisis called on Saleh to keep a promise to immediately sign the GCC plan and for a peaceful power transition “without further delay.”

Saleh has said he agrees to the plan by the six Gulf states but has refused to sign it or implement any of its provisions.

Dictatorships going down

Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkul Karman, a prominent Yemeni activist, was outside the Security Council for the vote and she called for international pressure on Saleh.

“Dictatorships are going down and are done,” she said before the meeting, according to AFP.

The draft resolution is less than what was demanded in New York on Tuesday by Karman.

Speaking at a demonstration, Karman made an impassioned plea to the United Nations to repudiate a Gulf Arab plan that would grant immunity to her country’s “war criminal” president, Saleh. She also called for his assets to be frozen and his case to be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

She met on Wednesday with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud and other top diplomats to reiterate her demands. Ban told Karman the United Nations had “a clear stance against impunity for gross human rights violations,” the U.N. press office said in a statement.

Speaking privately, council diplomats acknowledged that the draft resolution fell far short of Karman’s demands, but they rejected the suggestion that they had ignored the question of accountability altogether.

A need for political deal in Yemen

“Everyone on the council recognizes that there’s a need for a political deal in Yemen,” a Western diplomat told Reuters earlier on condition of anonymity. “Unfortunately, the GCC deal’s the only game in town.”

The situation in Yemen is getting worse. Dozens of protesters have been killed over the last few days, witnesses have said. A surge in attacks on Yemen’s oil and gas infrastructure by tribesmen or al-Qaeda militants threatens further disruptions or a complete cut in exports.

The United States and European members of the Security Council began pushing for a resolution on Yemen months ago, but the most they could persuade Russia and China to accept was a non-binding statement in June that condemned the crackdown and appealed for calm.

Earlier this month Russia and China, which are usually reluctant to condemn government violence, joined forces on what U.S. and European officials described as a “double veto” of a resolution condemning Syria’s clampdown on anti-government protesters that the United Nations says has killed at least 3,000 people since March.

Western diplomats earlier said they expected Russia and China to allow the Yemen resolution to pass, either by voting in favor of it or abstaining. They expect the same from the other “BRICS” countries -- Brazil, India and South Africa -- which are also on the council and withheld support for the Syria resolution.

“The situation in Yemen’s different,” a diplomat said. “The opposition in Yemen, unlike in Syria, is armed and dangerous. The situation needs to be dealt with and the Russians know it. A political solution is necessary."

More protests in Sana’a

Tens of thousands of demonstrators, meanwhile, took to the streets of the Yemeni capital on Friday to demand the resignation of veteran President Saleh, galvanized by the death of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.

“Ali, it’s your turn next, yours and Bashar’s,” the protesters chanted referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to AFP.

“Every dictator meets his end,” they chanted as they marched down Sana’a’s Sittine Avenue under the protection of dissident troops of the First Armored Division.

“Qaddafi’s death has fired up revolutionaries across the world, but especially in Yemen,” said Walid al-Ammari, a spokesman for the youth activists who have spearheaded nine months of protests against Saleh’s rule.

“Saleh must draw the lessons from the death of Qaddafi who called the Libyans rats and was finally caught like a rat in a tunnel,” he told AFP.

As on most Fridays, the president’s supporters held a counter-demonstration after the main weekly Muslim prayers in Sabine Square in the south of the city, which is controlled by loyalist troops.

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