Yemen opposition backs power transfer to vice-president

The BBC's Lina Sinjab says that it remains unclear if Mr Saleh will return, but anti-government protesters are already celebrating victory in Sanaa

Yemen's main opposition coalition says it will accept a transfer of power to the vice-president, after President Ali Abdullah Saleh left for Saudi Arabia.

Otherwise, the opposition Joint Meeting Parties said, they would seek to form a transitional government.

Vice-President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi stepped in when Mr Saleh departed on Saturday for medical treatment.

Mr Hadi said Mr Saleh, who was wounded last week in an attack on his compound in Sanaa, would return within days.

Mr Saleh, who has ruled since 1978, has refused to leave office despite protests and a tribal uprising which has brought the country to the brink of civil war.

'Other options'
Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa - 25 May 2011 President Saleh has so far refused to sign a deal under which he would cede power to his deputy

Meanwhile, at least three people died on Monday in the capital Sanaa in clashes with security forces, according to the Ahmar tribe.

"The opposition supports the complete transfer of power to the vice-president," Sultan el-Atwani, a leading figure in the Joint Meeting Parties, told Reuters news agency.

"In the case this falls through, the opposition and the youth of the revolution have alternative options, meaning a transitional council."

Mr Saleh had refused three times to sign a deal brokered by Gulf countries under which he would have handed power to Mr Hadi in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Saudi Arabia said it would continue to encourage parties to accept the deal, according to the country's state media.

Thousands of people have been celebrating Mr Saleh's departure.

However, there are mounting fears for the stability of the country, which is home to an al-Qaeda wing and riven with tribal and political divisions.

Yemen unrest

  • 27 January: Thousands take to streets of Sanaa in protests inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt
  • 2 February: President Saleh says he will not run for re-election in 2013; protesters hold "day of rage" the next day
  • 18 March: 45 protesters die in Sanaa after security forces open fire, prompting international condemnation; Saleh declares state of emergency
  • 22 May: Saleh refuses to sign Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) deal - to transfer power to his deputy - for a third time; GCC stops mediation efforts
  • 23 May: Followers of the powerful Hashid tribal federation rise against the government, after declaring their support for protests
  • 4 June: President Saleh leaves for Saudi Arabia after being injured in attack
Chest and neck surgery

Saudi officials said Mr Saleh had undergone surgery to remove shrapnel from his chest.

There were reports he would remain in Saudi Arabia for two weeks; one week to recover and another for meetings, but it was not known what he planned to do after that.

Mr Hadi said the president was recovering well and "would return to the homeland in the coming days", according to the state news agency Saba.

He added that he had spoken with Mr Saleh on Sunday evening and Monday morning by phone, the news agency said.

Deputy Information Minister Abdu al-Janadi said that, if Mr Saleh left power, it would be done "in a constitutional way".

Meanwhile, thousands of people loyal to the president have dedicated Monday as a day of fasting to express support for the leader.

Even if President Saleh wants to return, it is unlikely Saudi Arabia will allow him, BBC Middle East correspondent Jon Leyne says.

Acting President Hadi has already met US ambassador Gerald Michael Feierstein, state news agency Saba reported, to discuss "the importance of co-operation with the [opposition] Common Forum" alliance.

He may have little real power, however, with Mr Saleh's son and other relatives in charge of key units of the security forces.

Friday's attack on Mr Saleh came after days of street battles in Sanaa between government forces and fighters loyal to Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, head of the powerful Hashid tribal federation.

That power struggle overlaid widespread street protests that began earlier in the year, inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, calling for democratic reforms and an end to Mr Saleh's rule.

Some analysts say Saudi Arabia will now use his presence in the country to pressure him to sign the agreement.

Yemen troublespots

Map of Yemen

Sanaa: Anti-government demonstrations began in the capital this year. In March, Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar of the powerful Hashid tribal confederation declared his support for protesters. Violent battles broke out between tribal fighters and security forces.

Aden: As in Sanaa, thousands have joined anti-government protests. The port was scene of USS Cole suicide attack on USS Cole in 2000.

Saada: Truce between government and Houthi rebels was agreed in 2010 after six years of fighting. Occasional clashes and anti-government protests continue.

Abyan and Shabwa provinces: Operational bases for al-Qaeda. In 2010, a government offensive against separatists prompted thousands of people to flee.

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