US shifts position on Yemen; wants Saleh to quit

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Saana/Washington, Apr 4: Embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is likely to be eased out of office with Americans reported shifting positions and backing moves to replace him by his deputy Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi.

As violence continues to inflame the key strategically located country with 1,600 people reported injured in fresh riots in the city of Taiz, Al-Jazeera said the moves to oust Saleh had also been backed by Gulf monarchies and his prime ally Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf foreign minister who met in Saudi capital of Riyadh in a statement said the "Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have agreed to begin contact with the Yemeni government and opposition to overcome the current situation." The GCC supported the moves to work out a negotiated agreement to overcome the status quo.

Their mediation offer comes a day after Yemen's opposition told the beleaguered President to hand over power to his deputy, whom they would accept as an interim president till fresh elections are held.

The GCC also said in a significant statement that the "will and choices of the Yemeni people should be respected." The meeting was attended by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE - all GCC members.

The US, Arab and Yemeni officials were quoted by American media as saying that high-level negotiations were on to discuss a package for Saleh which would include a safe passage for him and his family to another country and transfer of power to Vice President al-Hadi till fresh elections are held within six months.

If Saleh agrees to the terms, he would be the third Arab head of state to demit office in the last few months in the face of countrywide riots and crackdown which have left more than 100 people dead.

The New York Times reported that the Obama administration which had long supported President Saleh even in the wake of wide spread protests have quietly shifted position and decided he must be eased out of office.

Earlier, the US had maintained its support for Saleh and refrained from directly criticizing in public even as his supporters fired on peaceful demonstrators, because he was considered a critical ally in fighting the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda.

This position, the NYT said, has fueled criticisms in the US as the country had rushed out to oust a repressive autocrat in Libya, but not in strategic allies like Yemen and Bahrain.

"That position began to shift last week," US officials were quoted by the NYT which said that Washington has now told its Arab allies that Saleh's hold on office was untenable and he should leave.


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