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Yemen's youth leaders set out their demands

By AHMED AL-HAJ
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 24, 2011; 11:18 AM

SANAA, Yemen -- The youth groups who began a monthlong uprising said Thursday that they wanted a new constitution and the dissolution of parliament, local councils and Yemen's notorious security agencies in addition to the immediate ouster of the president.

The widening demands appear to reflect the perception that President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime has been badly weakened by weeks of unrelenting protests, and the defection to the opposition of a string of powerful officials including members of the president's inner circle.

The organizers say they are hoping that several million people will turn out for Friday prayers in public squares and follow them with demonstrators against Saleh.

The leaders of the "Civil Coalition for Peaceful Revolution" - an umbrella group for several pro-reform organizations - told a news conference they also wanted to limit future presidents to two, four-year terms in office, and the creation of an interim presidential council of nine civilians to run the country until legislative and presidential elections are held.

The leader of Yemen's largest tribe sided with Saleh's opponents, calling on him to step down immediately and refrain from further violence against protesters.

The decision by the widely respected Sheik Sinan Abu Lohoum, 80, was announced in a statement issued from the United States, where he is receiving medical treatment. It was read to protesters gathered at a central Sanaa square that has become the epicenter of the protests.

Members of Abu Lohoum's immediate family confirmed the authenticity of the statement.

Abu Lohoum's Baqeel tribe is the larger of two that follow the Zaidi offshoot of Shiite Islam. The other - Saleh's own Hashid tribe - has already backed the opposition.

Several senior military commanders, lawmakers, Cabinet ministers, diplomats and provincial governors have also defected to the opposition over the last week.

"Those from the security and military institutions who have joined the youth revolution are most welcome," said one of the youth leaders, Nizar al-Jeneid. "We call on others to follow their example," he added before he warned that anyone among them found to have been corrupt should be held accountable.

Saleh has repeatedly sought to appease the protesters, to no avail.

Over the past month, he has offered not to run again when his current term ends in 2013, then offered this week to step down by the end of the year and open a dialogue with the leaders of the demonstrators.

At the same time, he has stepped up the use of violence. His security forces shot dead more than 40 demonstrators in Sanaa on Friday, but the bloodshed only escalated the defections and hardened the protesters' rejection of anything but his immediate departure.

Yemen's legislature granted Saleh's request for a 30-day state of emergency on Wednesday in a vote the opposition called illegal.

The state of emergency declaration appeared to signal that Saleh intends to dig in and try to crush his opponents. The decree allows media censorship, gives wide powers to censor mail, tap phone lines, search homes and arrest and detain suspects without judicial process.

Opposition parties allied with the youth groups in the protests said Saleh in part wanted the state of emergency as a legal cover for further crackdowns on the protests. Opposition and independent legislators stayed away from Wednesday's parliamentary session along with dozens of lawmakers from Saleh's own ruling party.

© 2011 The Associated Press