Yemen's President Signs Deal To Transfer Power
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh accepted a deal Wednesday to end his more than three decades in power, making him the latest leader to be ousted in the Arab Spring uprisings.
Saleh flew to Saudi Arabia early Wednesday and signed the agreement at a ceremony in the capital city of Riyadh. The accord, brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council, shifts power to Vice President Abdo Rabu Mansour Hadi within 30 days, according to a brief statement released by Yemen's Foreign Press Office.
The "monumental agreement will hopefully bring an end to the 10-month-long turmoil in the homeland," the statement said.
The deal also calls for early presidential elections within 90 days, as well as a two-year transition period in which a national unity government will amend the constitution, work to restore security and hold a national dialogue on the country's future.
Saleh will have immunity from prosecution — contradicting a key demand of Yemen's opposition protesters who have been in the streets since January demanding the fall of the regime.
Protest organizer Walid al-Ammar criticized the deal as a pact between Saleh's ruling party and a group of opposition parties, while ignoring protesters' demands.
"They agreed. That's their business," he told The Associated Press in Sanaa. "For us, the revolution continues in the square."
According to news reports, Saleh told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that he planned to travel to New York for medical treatment.
Saleh had clung to power despite the months-long uprising, daily mass protests calling for his ouster and a June assassination attempt that left him badly wounded and forced him to travel to Saudi Arabia for more than three months of hospital treatment.
His ouster after 33 years in power follows the removal of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February and Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was killed by opposition fighters last month.
In recent days, unrest has also rekindled in Egypt, where Mubarak's departure left the military in charge, and in Bahrain, which witnessed clashes between security forces and demonstrators on Wednesday ahead of the release of a government report on a crackdown by authorities against anti-government protests earlier this year.
Outside Bahrain's capital, Manama, riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades at demonstrators hours before the highly anticipated report, which includes probes into alleged abuses by security forces, was to be released
"The kingdom of Bahrain has sort of billed this as moment of reconciliation, a time to put this the past behind them and move on," NPR's Kelly McEvers . However, as we're seeing around the island yesterday and today, the sense of reconciliation is not here."
The head of a special commission that investigated the Bahrain's unrest, Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, said Wednesday that authorities used torture and excessive force against detainees arrested in crackdowns on the largest Arab Spring uprising in the Gulf.
Bassiouni making the first official comments on report's findings also said there was no evidence of Iranian links to Bahrain's Shiite-led protests in a clear rebuke Gulf leaders who accuse Tehran of playing a role in the 10-month-old showdown in the Western-allied kingdom.
The study, which was authorized by Bahrain's Sunni rulers in a bid to ease tensions, marks the most comprehensive document on security force actions during any of the revolts that have flared across the Arab world this year.
Bahrain's Sunni government promised "no immunity" for anyone suspected of abuses and said it would propose creating a permanent human rights watchdog commission.
"All those who have broken the law or ignored lawful orders and instructions will be held accountable," said a government statement, which says the report acknowledges that the "systematic practice of mistreatment" ended shortly after martial law was repealed on June 1.
Bassiouni's summary — read at a news conference attended by Bahrain's king — confirmed expectations that the report would be highly critical of officials in the strategic kingdom, which is the home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. The full text of the report, which focuses on the period between Feb. 14 and March 30, was expected to be released later Wednesday.
In Egypt's Tahrir Square, the site of mass protests that brought down Mubarak nine months ago, police clashed with anti-government protesters for a fifth day as a rights group raised the overall death toll from the ongoing unrest to 38.
The clashes came one day after tens of thousands of protesters in the square rejected a promise by Egypt's military ruler to speed up a presidential election to the first half of next year.
The military previously has floated late next year or early 2013 as the likely date for the vote, the last step in the process of transferring power to a civilian government after Mubarak's ouster.
But the televised address by the country's top military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, reminded many Egyptians of the indignant speeches given by Mubarak just days before he was forced from power.
The Tahrir crowd, along with protesters in a string of other cities across the nation, want Tantawi to step down immediately in favor of an interim civilian council to run the nation's affairs until elections for a new parliament and president are held.
Wednesday's street battles centered around the heavily fortified Interior Ministry, near the iconic square, with police and army troops using tear gas and rubber bullets to keep the protesters from storming the ministry, a sprawling complex that has for long been associated with the hated police and Mubarak's former regime.
With reporting from NPR's Kelly McEvers in Bahrain, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Cairo and Eric Westervelt in Berlin. Material from The Associated Press was used in this story.