Yemen: Saleh calls for dialogue, opposition doubtful

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SANA'A, Dec. 16 - President Saleh invited all political parties, civil society organizations and community leaders to the dialogue table in order to reach solutions for the crises the country is going through currently.

He did so three days ago as a response to escalating conflicts on more than one front in Yemen, and yielding to pressure from international powers that have called on the Yemeni government to reach peace settlement with various rebellious movements.

Saleh urged Abdulaziz Abdulghani, chairman the Shoura Council to initiate a dialogue "on all issues that concerning the nation within the framework of the Yemeni constitution and commitment to the national fundamentals.'' The dialogue is literary supposed to take place on December 26, 2009 provided the parties concerned agree.

However, the invitation for dialogue does not extend to the Houthi rebellion or southern armed groups, although he said in his instructions that his invitation steams from the responsibility he feels for the nation. The dialogue invitation includes members of the Shoura [consultative] council, registered political parties, members of the parliament, members of the local councils, prominent civil society leaders, religious scholars, and a number of sheikhs from strong tribes.

Mohammad Al-Sarari, member of the political office of the opposition Joined Meeting Parties (JMP), stated to the Yemen Times that the opposition coalition are probably the first entity invited to this dialogue, despite that it remains doubtful of the ruling party's sincerity.

"JMP may refuse the invitation for many reasons, most importantly is that we feel that invitation is a direct threat. The ruling party wants us to take everything they will offer without questioning, especially issues concerning Sa'ada and the Southern Movement," he said.

"We will not come to the negotiation table unless the fulfillment of some conditions is guaranteed. The war in Sa'ada must end and the Southern Movement issue must be resolved and people of the Southern regions must be treated well," he added.

Political baggage

Since 2004, Yemeni army has been fighting the Shiite rebellion in Sa'ada, northern Yemen. The conflict has extended to Saudi Arabia last month.

Yemenis from the South have conducted several sit-ins and demonstrations since 2007 to protest against what they call "a northern-dominated central government's discrimination."

Protests were escalated by 2008 as many southern Yemenis demanded secession and the restoration of an independent southern Yemeni state. As a consequence, the central government arrested among protestors, activists and journalists. Currently journalist Mohammad Al-Maqaleh who supported this movement in his writings, remains in prison after being kidnapped by security September 17, 2009.

The JMP says for any dialogue to happen, the government should first release Al-Maqaleh and others detained illegally.

Sons of Yemen opposition political party (RAY) welcomed the invitation but also with some reservations. Yemen Times got a copy of the party's comment to the invitation in which it also demanded the release of prisoners of political conscious.

The party also insisted that Saleh keeps his promises resulting from the discussions to be, which should not take longer than two months, and that an action plan agreed upon by all participants is to be created for things to happen.