SANAA, Yemen — As violence flared in Yemen’s restive south, opposition groups met with Yemen’s acting head of state Monday to discuss ways to solve the country’s political crisis and transfer power from embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is running the country while Saleh receives medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, urged opposition leaders to work with the government to first improve security and economic conditions. Then, Hadi told them, he would be willing to begin talks on finding a way to transfer power from Saleh in accordance with an initiative proposed by Yemen’s Persian Gulf neighbors led by Saudi Arabia.
“We agreed to this on one condition, that it goes hand in hand with political reforms,” said Ahmed Al-Bahri, an opposition leader who was at the meeting. “The vice president assured us that he had no problems with this.”
Still, it remains to be seen whether the talks could end the political impasse gripping this Middle Eastern nation and prevent a resurrection of violence between Saleh’s loyalists and tribal militias that plagued the capital for nearly three weeks. It is also unclear whether the youth activists who spearheaded Yemen’s populist uprising will embrace a transition plan that would include members of the current government.
Hadi has indicated that he would not entertain any discussion of easing Saleh from office without the president’s blessing.
Monday’s meeting was the first between opposition parties and Hadi since Saleh left for Saudi Arabia on June 4 for treatment of severe burn and shrapnel injuries he sustained in an attack on his presidential compound in Sanaa.
A senior Yemeni official in the Saudi capital, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press on Monday that the president’s condition was stable but not improving. Also on Monday, the ruling party newspaper in Sanaa said that several arrests had been made in the attempt to kill Saleh and that the suspects were being questioned.
Meanwhile, Yemeni warplanes targeted Islamist militants in control of Jaar, a town in the southern province of Abyan, killing three suspected extremists, said Yemeni security officials.
In recent weeks, the Islamists, many with suspected links to Yemen’s al-Qaeda branch, have taken over areas in Abyan, including the provincial capital, Zinjibar. Yemen’s political upheaval has provided an opening to the terror affiliate and its sympathizers to gain ground in southern Yemen, raising concerns that the militants could create a safe haven to launch attacks against the United States and its allies.
As the country’s security situation has worsened, Washington has stepped up its covert activities in southern Yemen, targeting suspected al-Qaeda militants with drone attacks and airstrikes.