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Yemen president seeks guarantees on exit

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Ali Abdullah Saleh, president of Yemen, has agreed to sign a Gulf peace deal calling for a transfer of power, but only if the United States, Europe and Gulf Arab states gave him unspecified guarantees.

"Now that the president has returned, they say there is no need for the vice president to sign. Fine, I am ready to sign," Saleh said in a broadcasted meeting with party leaders in the capital Sanaa on Wednesday.

"But provide guarantees to implement this initiative. We want Gulf guarantees, first, second, European guarantees and third American guarantees," he added.

Saleh's comments came after the five permanent members of the UN Security Council circulated a draft resolution to the full 15-nation body urging the swift signing and implementation of an agreement "on the basis of" the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) initiative.

Under the plan, Saleh would transfer power to his deputy until elections could be held and be immune from prosecution.

Despite promises to sign the initiative, Saleh has backed out three times - saying that he will only hand over power to "safe hands".

Violence in Yemen, where thousands have been demonstrating for months demanding that the president end his 33 years in power, has spiked since he returned from Saudi Arabia in September - where he received treatment for injuries sustained in an assassination attempt.

Questions of accountability

Western Security Council diplomats denied that the draft resolution was an endorsement of the GCC initiative, although one envoy referred to the deal as "the only game in town".

The draft resolution, obtained by Reuters news agency, would have the Security Council say that it "stresses that all those responsible for violence, human rights violations and abuses should be held accountable". It did not give any details on how accountability would be achieved.

Council diplomats said privately that they hoped the resolution would be voted on and approved next week.

Calling President Saleh a "war criminal", Yemeni Nobel peace laureate Tawakul Karman made an impassioned plea to the UN on Tuesday to reject the initiative because it would grant Saleh immunity,

She said that she plans to emphasize that point in a meeting with Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general, later on Wednesday.

Ban's spokesman said on Tuesday that there should be "no impunity" for rights violations in Yemen.

Referring to the dismantling of now-deceased Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's Baath party after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Saleh said the world has been pushing him to sign the GCC initiative without any assurances on the fate of members of his administration.

"They say sign without any conditions and then we will look into the mechanism of the timing," Saleh said. "First, you must show your goodwill, and then we are willing to sign the initiative," he added.


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