21st Sep 2019

Yemen killings continue after EU endorsement

  • Sanaa: Amnesty International says the GCC agreement would set a bad example for other violent leaders (Photo: Sallam)

Fifteen more people have been killed in Yemen hours after the EU endorsed a plan which offers immunity from prosecution to President Ali Abdallah Saleh.

Saleh forces shot dead 12 protesters and injured over 100 during violence in the capital Sanaa on Wednesday afternoon (27 April). Three more people, including two policemen, died in fighting in the southern tows of Aden and Abyan. The developments bring the death count since recent troubles began to over 120.

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The clashes came hours after EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton at midday Brussels time welcomed a power-sharing proposal put together by the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC).

"I would like to thank the GCC for its hard work towards securing political agreement for transition in Yemen. I believe that the GCC initiative represents the best chance for Yemen to address the economic, social and security challenges ahead, and to avoid escalation of violence," the Ashton statement said.

The GCC plan says Saleh is to step down in 30 days, call presidential elections in two months and give a prominent minority role to opposition activists in a new national unity government. The text has been accepted by parts of the opposition and is to be formally approved at a meeting in Riyadh on Sunday.

Ashton spokesman Michael Mann told EUobserver on Thursday morning that the latest deaths do not change the EU position.

"The statement is about our happiness that the parties have thrashed out an agreement. We are still happy that they have managed this and we hope it will be put into place. The violence is a different issue and must be condemned and must be brought to an end," he said.

"The agreement provides for the parliament, on the 29th day, to endorse laws that offer immunity against any legal or judicial pursuit of the president and those who worked with him. This is an internal Yemeni affair as part of their deal to ensure the political transition," he added.

Amnesty International in a statement on Wednesday criticised any deal that would let the president of the hook.

"Are the Western governments that have spoken up so strongly for accountability in Libya and elsewhere now willing to endorse this shabby attempt to evade justice by one of the Middle East's longest-serving rulers?" the group's Middle East director Malcom Smart said.

"What sort of signal will it send to the leaders of other governments that arbitrarily lock up, torture and even kill their opponents if President Saleh is allowed to walk away from what has been done under his rule?"

EU foreign policy also suffered a setback in New York on Wednesday when China, Russia and Lebanon refused to back a UN Security Council (UNSC) press statement condemning govermnent killings in Syria.

A draft text had been put forward by EU security council members France, Germany, Portugal and the UK. A press statement is a necessary first step before imposing UN-level sanctions or mandating outside intervention as in Libya.

According to news reports, the Russian ambassador to the UN, Alexander Pankin, said the situation in Syria "does not represent a threat to international peace and security" but that "a real threat to regional security could come from outside interference."

The French ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said: "There are European Union countries that wanted a strong reaction ... Other countries were very much more cautious, saying we have to know better about what is happening on the ground."

With the EU on Friday to consider imposing its own sanctions on Syria, he added: "If nothing positive happens, France, with others, will study a series of options aiming to increase pressure on the Syrian regime so that it stops the repression and engages on the path to reform."

President Bashar al-Assad's forces have killed around 450 people in the past six weeks. Reports on Wednesday indicate that tanks have appeared on the streets of Damascus and that over 200 members of the ruling Baath party have resigned in protest at the crackdown.

In the run-up to a possible EU visa ban on al-Assad and his officials, the regime has already acquired de facto pariah status.

British media on Thursday carried stories of outrage that Syria's ambassador to the UK, Sami Khiyami, has been invited to the royal wedding on Friday. Meanwhile, Prince William's former university, St Andrew's, said it will review the status of a centre for Syrian studies co-funded by al-Assad money.

The story was altered at 11am Brussels time on 28 April to add a new Mann quote on Saleh immunity


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