U.S. Presses Saleh to Hand Over Power in Yemen

The White House called Monday for an "immediate transition" of power in Yemen, where the United States fears al-Qaida could exploit political turmoil and strengthen its presence.

After four months of deadly unrest, Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year-old regime was teetering even before the president was wounded in an attack on his palace and flown late Saturday to neighboring Saudi Arabia for treatment.

"We believe that an immediate transition is in the best interests of the people and the best interest of maintaining stability in obviously a very unstable situation," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking alongside French counterpart Alain Juppe at a Washington press conference, made it clear Saleh should leave power but stopped short of expressly ordering him to do so.

"The civilian government remains in power in Yemen. The vice president is currently serving as the acting president," said Clinton, adding that U.S. embassy staff was meeting with "a broad cross-section of Yemeni officials as well as civil society to try to better assess what this means to the country.

"Obviously, I can't speculate on what President Saleh is going to do or say, but we do want to emphasize we're calling for a peaceful and orderly transition, a non-violent transition that is consistent with Yemen's own constitution," she said.

"We think an immediate transition is in the best interest of the Yemeni people, because the instability and lack of security currently afflicting Yemen cannot be addressed until there is some process that everyone knows is going to lead to the sort of economic and political reforms that they are seeking."

Washington supports a deal, brokered by the regional Gulf Cooperation Council bloc, that would see Saleh cede power to an interim administration within 30 days, in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Saleh, a wily operator who since 1978 has bought off tribal loyalties and stitched them together into a governable framework, has refused to sign the accord and warned that his ouster would only serve to boost al-Qaida.

"Our position is that we support the agreement that President Saleh had talked about signing several times and didn't," Carney said.

"We want a peaceful and orderly transition that's consistent with the Yemeni constitutional process. Our position hasn't changed."

A top aide said Monday that 69-year-old Saleh, who was recuperating in a Riyadh military hospital, planned to return within days, a move likely to set off another round of unrest in the violence-plagued nation.

In Sanaa, a fragile truce held despite a deadly sniper attack on loyalists of a powerful tribal chief blamed for Friday's bomb attack which wounded Saleh as he prayed inside a mosque in his compound.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Yemen's capital on Sunday to cheer what they said was the end of Saleh's regime.

The situation presents US partner Saudi Arabia and Washington with a conundrum as Saleh has been a key ally in the fight against al-Qaida's Yemen-based franchise, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

AQAP has claimed several attacks against the United States and other Western interests.

The group was linked to the "underwear bomber" -- a young Nigerian who allegedly tried to blow up a packed transatlantic airliner as it landed in Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

It was also blamed for the more recent parcel bomb plot, involving sophisticated explosive devices hidden in printer inkjet cartridges and sent via air freight to Jewish addresses in the United States.

Source: Agence France Presse

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