21st Sep 2020

'Hawkish' France says Yemeni leader will fall

A 'hawkish' France has surprised its EU allies by publicly predicting that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh will fall from power.

"We say this to Yemen, where the situation is worsening. We estimate today that the departure of President Saleh is unavoidable," French foreign minister Alain Juppe told press after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday (21 March).

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  • French jets taking off for Libya - French President Sarkozy's planes fired the first symbolic shot against Gaddafi on Saturday (Photo: French Ministry of Defence)

"We are coherent on all the events in the Middle East and Mediterranean. We wish democracy and human rights for all the peoples of the region. This is valid for all countries."

Juppe spoke after a top Yemeni general defected to protesters calling for an end to Saleh's 33-year-long rule. The president responded by sending tanks onto the streets of Sanaa. Saleh forces last week killed over 40 protesters.

The French line was stronger than the language agreed by all 27 ministers on Yemen in their joint communique on Monday.

"To achieve an orderly political transition, the Council urges the government of Yemen and all parties to engage in constructive, comprehensive and inclusive dialogue, without delay," the joint statement said.

President Saleh is a Western ally in the war on al-Qaeda. The crisis in the majority Sunni Muslim country also comes at a time of growing tension between Sunni power Saudi Arabia and Shia power Iran over Bahrain, with other EU members wary of stoking a sectarian conflict in the Arabian Gulf.

Remarking on France's general attitude at the EU ministerial on Monday, one EU diplomat said its "hawkish" tone is linked to the fact that President Nicolas Sarkozy has an election to win next year.

Another diplomat reported that France is "not playing ball" on letting Nato take over command of the Libyan no-fly operation from France, the UK and the US because "they want to be the glorious ones."

Juppe said that Arab countries do not want to see Nato in Libya. And he underlined that: "It is not a Nato operation, but under the UN, with Arab countries, US and Canada and the European Union."

Juppe and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton both played down the idea of an EU split on Libya after Bulgaria, Germany, Poland and Malta - for a variety of reasons - said they would play no part in military action.

"I don't accept that we're in a situation that is comparable to what has happened in any other situation, particularly 2003," Ashton said, referring to the EU rift over Iraq.

Germany reportedly said it is happy for Nato-earmarked resources to be used in the no-fly mission. Poland said it is keen to step in post-Gaddafi to use its own revolutionary experience to help build a new intelligence service, identify credible leaders in the opposition and set up a transitional parliament.

In two statements in line with Gaddafi propaganda, Bulgarian leader Boyko Borisov on Monday said the Libya campaign is all about "oil and the future exploitation of Libyan oil" and Russian PM Vladimir Putin compared it to "a medieval call to a crusade."

A Bulgarian diplomat said the quote was taken out of context in a long interview and that Borisov later said the campaign was "legitimate."

Other EU diplomats noted there is genuine concern that the bombing campaign will not remove Gaddafi from power, raising the prospect either of an Iraq-type ground invasion led by France or of having to do business with Gaddafi again.

"The outcome is far from certain ... so some people are trying to undermine the coalition and to put themselves in first place [in terms of Gaddafi relations] if the coalition fails," an EU source said.


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