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Protesters Pour Into Yemen’s Streets Again Amid New Calls for Saleh to Leave

April 25, 2011 at 4:50 PM EST
As thousands of Yemeni protesters crowded streets Monday calling for President Saleh to step down, at least two more protesters were killed -- bringing the death toll to at least 140 in two months. Meanwhile, Saleh signaled that he could leave power within a month if he and relatives are granted immunity from prosecution.
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MARGARET WARNER: The Arab revolts continue unabated, including in one country that has been a key ally of the U.S. war on terror.

Tens of thousands of protesters poured into Yemen’s streets again today, two months into an uprising against the 33-year rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh. The latest violence followed an eventful weekend. President Saleh said Saturday he would leave power within 30 days if he and his relatives were granted immunity from prosecution. But in a BBC interview yesterday, Saleh sounded less definitive.

ALI ABDULLAH SALEH, President of Yemen (through translator): This is a coup. You call on me from the U.S. and Europe to hand over power. Who shall I hand it over to, those who are trying to make a coup? No. We will do it through ballot boxes and referendums. We will invite international observers to monitor, but we will not accept a coup inside the country, and we will not accept any external support for it.

MARGARET WARNER: This latest proposal to negotiate an end to the uprising was offered late last week by the Gulf Cooperation Council, six Persian Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia.

Under the GCC plan, Saleh would hand over power to his vice president 30 days after signing the deal. In the interim, a coalition government of ruling and opposition parties would draw up a new constitution to be voted on in subsequent elections. A coalition of Yemen’s opposition parties welcomed the initiative, though some balked at forming a temporary government with Saleh. But, late today, Reuters reported the opposition had agreed to join.

FUAD DAHABA, Yemeni Parliament Opposition Member (through translator): We appreciate any efforts that can bring Yemen out from its ordeal.

MARGARET WARNER: It’s unclear, however, if the youth will go along. Over the weekend, young protest leaders rejected the proposal, saying it gives Saleh too much leeway to renege. Thousands remain camped out in the capital Sanaa’s central square, demanding Saleh’s immediate departure.

The Obama administration of late has been trying to quietly ease Saleh from office, even though he’s been a vital ally in fighting a potent al-Qaida branch based in Yemen’s hinterlands. In the BBC interview, Saleh warned that al-Qaida had infiltrated the protesters’ camps and that the West should be wary.

ALI ABDULLAH SALEH (through translator): Why is the West not looking at this destructive work and its dangerous implications for the future? They’re ignoring what al-Qaida is doing in Yemen, and they will pay the price.

MARGARET WARNER: On Saturday, the Obama administration applauded that day’s statements from Saleh and the opposition accepting the GCC deal