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At least two anti-government protesters were reportedly killed and hundreds wounded in Yemen on Monday, despite an agreement by President Ali Abullah Saleh to step down.
SANAA, Yemen – At least two anti-government protesters were reportedly killed and hundreds wounded in Yemen on Monday, as youth protesters made good on their pledge to instead “escalate” their demonstrations despite a weekend agreement by Yemeni President Ali Abullah Saleh to relinquish his 32-year hold on power.
The deal, after more than three months of fierce pro-democracy protests that began in the capital and spread throughout the country, came with certain conditions – including immunity for the president and his family.
But a day after the deal was reached between president and the political opposition — after weeks of diplomatic wrangling by the Gulf Cooperation Council led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — Saleh reportedly again defied calls for him to step down immediately, saying he won't hand power to "insurrectionists."
"We are committed to constitutional legitimacy and don't accept chaos," Saleh reportedly said in an interview with BBC Arabic on Sunday. "Whom shall I hand it over to? Those who are trying to make a coup? No. We will do it through ballot boxes and referendums."
Protest leaders say they suspect Saleh is just maneuvering to buy time, as he has done in the past, The Associated Press reports.
In the immediate wake of the deal’s announcement, young protesters in major cities across the country pledged to incite more marches, general strikes and civil disobedience.
The thousands of protesters camped out in what is now being called “Change Square,” did not budge and did not celebrate at the news.
Saleh was quoted by Saba News, the country’s state news agency, saying he accepted the proposal only so that the political opposition would not force the country into a bloody and protracted civil war.
On Monday, the authorities blocked a huge march in Taiz, south of the capital Sanaa, and one woman was killed and 10 other people wounded, according to Euronews. Fatalities are also reported in the towns of Ibb and Al-Baida.
According to the proposal, Saleh would hand over power to his vice president, Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi, in 30 days. Elections would be held another 30 days after than. And once a new president is elected, the new head of state in Yemen will oversee the drafting of a new constitution, according to the plan.
Yemen’s political opposition, a fractured coalition of six different political parties, said that despite some concerns, it welcomed the plan.
"We have officially accepted the plan. However, we take some issue with the interim government being sworn in before Saleh himself. Ideally, we would like the interim government to be formed after Saleh leaves power,” said Mohammad Qahtan, a spokesman for the opposition.
Yemen analyst Gregory Johnsen is skeptical that the proposal by the Gulf countries would change the situation on the ground.
"It is far from clear exactly what Saleh's ‘acceptance’ of the plan means,” he said. “Many of the details appear to be unacceptable to protesters who have been camped out for more than two months. A lot can happen in 30 days.”
One of Saleh’s demands is an end to the demonstrations. But the political opposition does not represent the protesters and has little control over whether or not they continue their movement. It appears unlikely that protest leaders, who have from the beginning demanded Saleh’s immediate departure and have little faith in the political opposition, will view the agreement as anything but more political maneuvering by the president.
Protesters have also long said that they would not accept immunity for Saleh and his family in exchange his resignation.
“It has been our position since the massacre on March 18 that immunity for the murderer Saleh and his murderous family members is absolutely unacceptable,” said one youth movement leader, Adel Al-Sarabi, referring to the day when Yemeni security forces opened fire on protesters in front of Sanaa University.