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Yemen’s president calls for elections

Associated Press / May 21, 2011

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SANA, Yemen — Yemen’s embattled president snubbed a US-backed proposal by Gulf Arab nations that would end his rule yesterday and instead called for elections, a move unlikely to end the months of mass street protests demanding his ouster.

The announcement by Ali Abdullah Saleh dashed hopes for a quick end to the crisis in the Arab world’s poorest country, home to one of Al Qaeda’s most dangerous branches.

“This could go on for some time,’’ said Christopher Boucek, a Yemen expert with the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. “He has been in power for 32 years, and this is not just luck. He has managed to figure out how to negotiate, balance, and manage different interests.’’

Saleh’s announcement yesterday to a crowd of cheering supporters in the capital, Sana, follows the apparent collapse of weeks of efforts by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council to mediate an end to the crisis.

The regional alliance tried to broker an agreement for Saleh to leave power in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Saleh, who has refused before to sign the deal, again declined to put his signature to the document on Wednesday, prompting the GCC’s head to leave Yemen. The next day, a spokesman said he changed his mind and would sign tomorrow.

Saleh did not mention the agreement yesterday while speaking to a crowd of supporters near his presidential palace, nor did he say when the early elections would take place.

“We call for early presidential elections to stop the bloodshed and to preserve traditions in a democratic and smooth manner,’’ Saleh told a crowd of tens of thousands. In a nearby square, hundreds of thousands of his opponents called for his ouster. The opposition rejected the proposal for early elections.

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