8:00am

Sun April 24, 2011
Middle East

Yemenis Wary Of President's Promise To Step Down

Transcript

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

After weeks of protests in Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has signed a deal to step down in 30 days. In exchange, he will get immunity for himself, his family and aides. Opposition leaders have tentatively accepted the deal, but protesters say they won't leave the streets.

Eric Stier is a reporter in Yemen's capital Sana'a. He's a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Time magazine and the Christian Science Monitor. Thanks for talking with us today.

Mr. ERIC STIER (Reporter): Absolutely.

HANSEN: What are the exact conditions of the deal?

Mr. STIER: Under the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative, President Saleh would hand over power to his deputy within 30 days, at which point the traditional National Unity government would oversee a period of 60 days during which the constitution would be rewritten. Presidential elections would be held at the end of that period.

HANSEN: Why is Saleh accepting the deal now?

Mr. STIER: President Saleh's come under quite a bit of international pressure in recent weeks. The U.S., the EU and the GCC member nations have responded quite harshly to the violence that has been consistently breaking out in Yemen.

HANSEN: What is the nature of what you refer to as international pressure? For example, what's the role of Saudi Arabia?

Mr. STIER: Saudi Arabia leads the Gulf Cooperation Council and is the largest regional power broker. Saudi Arabia is additionally the largest foreign donor to Yemen and is the only country to directly contribute budgetary assistance.

HANSEN: And that's a lot of pressure.

Mr. STIER: And that is a lot of pressure. Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world and is facing an economic crisis.

HANSEN: And the opposition, I said they tentatively accepted the deal. Why are they accepting it?

Mr. STIER: Well, at this point it seems like it is the most practical way towards a peaceful transition, according to the opposition leaders. Additionally, it gives the opposition members a chance to exercise power that they've been seeking for years.

HANSEN: And you've been out in the streets. What are the people saying? Will the protests end with a deal?

Mr. STIER: The protests will most certainly not end. Opposition demonstrators are furious about this deal and are summarily rejecting it. A student protest leader that I just spoke to said that if they proceed with this deal that the demonstrations will go on call for the resignation of the interim president and will boycott the National Unity government.

HANSEN: If Saleh steps down, who is that interim president who takes over?

Mr. STIER: Well, right now, that will be his vice president, Mansour Hadi. There is talk of President Saleh choosing the new deputy who would lead this period, but that decision has not been made yet.

HANSEN: Eric Stier is a reporter in Yemen's capital, Sana'a. Thank you.

Mr. STIER: Absolutely. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.