Yemen protesters remember dead with talks stalled

Thu Mar 31, 2011 1:51pm EDT
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By Mohammed Ghobari and Mohamed Sudam

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemenis on Thursday commemorated dozens of people killed in weeks of street protests demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh resign, while efforts continued to negotiate his exit from power within the next year.

Weeks of protests in Sanaa and elsewhere have brought Saleh's 32-year-old rule to the verge of collapse but the United States and Saudi Arabia, an important financial backer of its turbulent, poverty-stricken neighbor where al Qaeda militants flourish, are worried over who might succeed their ally.

A senior Western diplomat said Saleh, whose comments have at times sounded like he was preparing to leave office soon and at others as if he intends to see out his term, appeared to be agonizing over his options.

"My guess is that he is very torn about all of these things and that what you hear from him is functions of inner turmoil," he told Reuters.

On Tuesday, Saleh held talks with Mohammed al-Yadoumi, head of the Islamist Islah party, once a partner in his government. Saleh was looking for avenues to stay on as president while new parliamentary and presidential elections are organised by the end of the year, an opposition source said.

The talks have stalled and it is not clear how they can restart. Saudi authorities have deflected Yemeni government efforts to involve them in mediation. Protesters camped outside Sanaa University since early February are insisting that Saleh, who has said he will not run for re-election in 2013, leave soon.

Groups calling themselves the Youth Revolution said on Wednesday they wanted corruption trials, the return of "stolen public and private property," release of political detainees, dissolution of the security forces and the closure of the Information Ministry -- steps taken in Tunisia and Egypt after similar uprisings removed entrenched leaders.

On Thursday, the protest swelled to tens of thousands who came to remember about 82 protesters killed so far, including 52 shot by snipers on March 18. "The people want the butcher to face trial!" they chanted.   Continued...