By Arab News
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) urged Ali Abdullah Saleh to sign a power transfer plan “immediately” as forces loyal to the Yemeni president attacked pro-opposition troops with mortar shells and heavy gunfire Saturday and rooftop snipers picked off unarmed protesters fleeing in panic. The streets of the capital were littered with bodies with more than 40 people killed.
The GCC states “affirm their commitment to help their brothers in Yemen to reach an agreement for the immediate implementation of the Gulf Initiative,” they announced at a meeting in New York late Friday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.
The GCC states want to see Saleh “immediately sign the initiative and ensure a peaceful transition of power … to meet his people’s aspirations for change and reform,” the Saudi Press Agency said.
Yemen’s Gulf neighbors have been trying for months to persuade Saleh to accept a plan under which he would transfer power in return for a promise of immunity from prosecution. Their statement came following a report on Yemen presented by GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif Al-Zayani to foreign ministers and international diplomats in New York.
The GCC ministers “condemned … the use of weapons, especially heavy weapons against unarmed protesters,” said the statement.
They called for “self-restraint, a complete and immediate cease-fire, and for forming a commission to inquire into the latest events that have cost the lives of innocent Yemenis.”
Witnesses and protesters said Saturday that hundreds fled from a midnight raid, involving mortar and sniper fire, that lasted until noon on Saturday on “Change Square,” the heart of an uprising where thousands have camped for eight months calling for Saleh to relinquish power.
They said the forces attacking “Change Square” included the elite Republican Guard and Central Security forces.
“We couldn’t sleep because of the strikes … The buildings around us were shaking. Look at the chaos that Saleh’s return has already caused. These thugs were encouraged by his return,” said a protester who gave his name as Mohammad.
Saleh went to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment in June for wounds suffered in an assassination attempt. After his return, he said he wanted a truce to end days of fighting in the capital.
The president’s main military rival, Gen. Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, said Saleh’s return was a “major catastrophe” and called on Gulf and Western powers to stop him from igniting a civil war.
In a strongly worded statement, Al-Ahmar called Saleh a “sick, vengeful soul” and compared him to the Roman Emperor Nero, burning down his own city.
Opposition spokesman Mohammed Al-Sabri held Saleh directly responsible for Saturday’s killings. “It’s as if he was unleashed from a cage and came out to retaliate,” Al-Sabri said. “This man deals with Yemen as if he’s a gang leader, not a leader of a nation.”