Thursday, 18 August 2011 22:34
New York Times By LAURA KASINOF-London - Adenpress
Leaders announced a national council Wednesday at a news conference in Sana, Yemen. Plans call for choosing a president and a 20-member execu
Seven months after demonstrators first took to the streets in Yemen calling for democracy, opposition leaders formed a national council on Wednesday to act as a government-in-waiting, a provocative step the government condemned even before it was announced.
The council consists of 143 members recruited from a broad array of tribal sheiks, protest leaders, southern separatists, military commanders and former members of the governing party. It was created to unite a fractured opposition and reinvigorate an uprising that has ground to a virtual standstill.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in Saudi Arabia recovering from a bomb attack that left him gravely wounded, has insisted that he will return and resume power. In anticipation of the opposition’s forming a national council, the government spokesman, Abdu al-Janadi, said last week in an online posting that such a move would amount to “a declaration of war.”
“This is an action that means to create a state within a state and create civil war in Yemen,” Mr. Janadi wrote.
The council, which includes 11 women, plans to choose a president and a 20-member executive committee.
An opposition leader, Mohammed Basandwa, announced the creation of the group at a crowded news conference on Wednesday inside Sana University, a center of the continuing antigovernment protests. After the announcement, organizers issued a statement saying the council hoped to “escalate the struggle.”
The opposition has remained incredibly resilient for months, with core demonstrators remaining camped out on the streets, even during this holy month of Ramadan, when the faithful do not eat or drink during daylight hours.
But from the very start in January, divergent political agendas have made it difficult to find a strong and agreed upon leadership within the opposition. A rift between the original youth protesters and formal opposition leaders grew deeper as the weeks stretched into months, prompting each side to name its own “transitional council.”
Naming a national council seeks to reverse those divisions.
Unlike Libya’s national council, Yemen’s shadow government does not control any territory or have any tangible authority. Its announcement is largely strategic and symbolic. That the opposition was able to announce the council on the day it said it would was a rare showing of political organization. But still, one independent Yemeni protester, Faris Siraj, said the council was “without value or use” because Mr. Saleh remained president. A Yemeni diplomat speaking on the condition of anonymity, in keeping with diplomatic protocol, said “the council will only prolong the current stalemate.”
Members of the governing party have said that early presidential elections are the only way out of the current political impasse, in which the opposition has refused to work with the governing party as long as Mr. Saleh remains president.
Additionally, the national council is not part of the internationally-backed political transition plan for Yemen. In that plan, still on the table, the opposition would share leadership responsibilities with the governing party for a set period of time.
Mr. Saleh has been recuperating from the bomb attack on the presidential palace in early June. He appeared on state television on Tuesday, looking more healthy than during previous appearances, and vowed that he would return to Yemen.
“See you soon in the capital, Sana,” he said.