US, worried about Al Qaeda in Yemen, urges Saleh to step down immediately
With Yemeni violence persisting as President Saleh convalesces in Saudi Arabia, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recommended an immediate transition to a new government.
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Bloomberg reports that the political opposition is pushing the Gulf Cooperation Council proposal: Saleh's resignation within 30 days in exchange for immunity from prosecution, and a transition to a new government within 60 days. The US has backed the proposal.Skip to next paragraph
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The Washington Post notes that Mr. Hadi, the acting president, is not nearly as powerful as Saleh's son and nephews who command some of the country's elite forces. If Saleh is pushed out of office, a violent power struggle could unfold between his family and whoever tries to take over the Yemeni government. In the volatile country, a power struggle could quickly devolve into full-blown civil war.
Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen scholar from Princeton University, notes on his Waq al-Waq blog that it is Saleh's son, not Hadi, who moved into the presidential compound upon Saleh's departure. And official government troops are not protecting Hadi; that task is reportedly being fulfilled by troops loyal to defector Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.
While the question of who will lead is batted around in Sanaa and Washington, the Yemeni government's hold on power, "tenuous before the uprising," is slipping further, Bloomberg notes. Fighting raged again on Tuesday in Zinjibar, a city in Yemen's far south that was overtaken last week by militants, possibly from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), according to Reuters.
The fact is that the US would likely not be as engaged in Yemen's transition if it weren't for American concerns about the unrest giving freer rein to AQAP, which has made clear its intention – if not its ability – to strike Western targets. In an editorial titled "Yemenis deserve liberty but fighting terrorism comes first," the Bloomberg editorial board writes:
A starkly undeveloped, rugged country at the heel of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen languished in obscurity for years. It’s amazing what a thriving branch of al-Qaeda and a popular rebellion can do for a country’s name recognition.
Now Yemen’s fate is of global importance, precisely because, as a state on the verge of collapse, it is a haven for terrorists. It is vital that the U.S. and its allies respond carefully to the unrest there.