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Yemen's President makes deal with opposition

Anti-government protesters demonstrate outside Sanaa University to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh March 2, 2011.

Khaled Abdullah/Khaled Abdullah/REUTERS

In what may prove to be the first example this year of an Arab state reaching a compromise resolution to a popular uprising, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has reportedly agreed to step down by the end of the year.

The agreement is part of a deal proposed Wednesday by Yemen's established opposition parties. The proposal promises several political reforms.

"The leadership has reached an initial agreement on the five points, an official statement is due tomorrow," a government official told Time magazine late Wednesday. "Details," another government official said, "are being worked out."

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The thousands of youthful protesters who launched the pro-democracy campaign are not part of the deal and are unlikely to be satisfied with it.

As was the case with their counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia, Yemen's protesters have made the immediate departure of the President and his family the single most important goal of their campaign.

"The street will be furious," said Yasin al-Mikhlafi, one of the original protesters, when he learned the news in the early hours of Thursday.

The opposition plan reportedly calls for all political parties in Yemen to confer on the best means to transfer power democratically. Means to be discussed include moving to a parliamentary system and thereby reducing the powers of the president, as well as changing to a proportional representation system, at least in part.

The plan also states that Yemenis should be allowed to protest peacefully without fear of violence, that a committee should be formed to investigate attacks against protesters, and that the families of all protesters killed or injured should be compensated by the state.

Twenty-seven demonstrators have died since the protests started, according to Amnesty International.

Protest organizers feel betrayed by the opposition parties' initiative.

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"The agreement bypasses the youth revolution and is not acceptable," said Samia al-Aghbari, a student leader in Sanaa. "Our demand is one: The departure of the regime."

Only two days ago, the opposition parties had sided with the protesters and refused an offer to join a unity government, stating they would join a government only after Mr. Saleh leaves.

"If the protesters cling to their demand that Saleh must leave now, they're going to lose," said a senior government official sympathetic to their demands for reform. Mr. Saleh will not go out like that, and nothing short of civil war will force him to, he said.

"But between their insistence that he leave immediately and his refusal to do so lies the solution," the official said. The opposition's five-point plan, its supporters say, is just such a compromise.

Rafat al-Akhali hopes the protesters see the agreement as a success for them. The 28-year-old Yemeni Canadian businessman is among a small group that has been trying to encourage the protest leadership to compromise on their principal demand for the sake of more permanent political reforms.

"Just saying, 'Saleh must leave' isn't a program," he said. "They should consider what might be most realistic and will allow them to get their other ideas on the table."

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Mr. al-Mikhlafi, the organizer, said he'll be willing to accept the opposition plan allowing Mr. Saleh to stay on a few more months "provided our reform ideas are part of the package."

But he's very upset by the opposition parties' end run around the protesters.

"They need to know that no deal can be finalized without our opinions being represented," he said. "Don't forget, they wouldn't be in that position if it weren't for us."

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About the Author
Global Affairs reporter

As Global Affairs Writer, Patrick Martin’s primary focus is on the turbulent Middle East, to which he travels regularly. He has twice been posted to the region – from 1991-95 and from 2008-12. More

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