Yemeni government, opposition to sign Gulf initiative in Riyadh Monday

Obama tackles latest developments in the region with Abu Dhabi crown prince

Assad holds consultations with Turkish premier over developments, receives message from UAE president

Western nations bring pressure to bear on Syria to stop crackdown on protesters

Maliki is asked to show clear stand on U.S. withdrawal from Iraq

Two Yemeni policemen and a protester were killed in clashes Wednesday in the country's main southern city of Aden, a security official and medics told AFP.

"Two Yemeni policemen were killed in a clash between security forces and protesters," the security official said.

In another clash, Yemeni troops killed one protester and wounded three others, according to a medical official.

"The army killed Mohsen al-Yahri and wounded three others," the medic said.

The clashes erupted when troops moved to dismantle road blocks set up by protesters who have called for a full strike every Wednesday and Saturday to press their demand for the immediate ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Yemen's Republican Guard, which is led by Saleh's son Ahmed, shot and wounded five people late on Tuesday, in an attempt to disperse pro- and anti-Saleh protesters who clashed in Aden, medical officials said.

During Tuesday's clashes, protesters calling for Saleh's ouster attacked a women's rally loyal to the 69-year-old leader, witnesses said.

The Republican Guard intervened, shooting live rounds at the protesters in what developed into a gunfight between both sides.

Clashes during protests calling for Saleh's ouster have left at least 130 people dead since January.

Anti-government protesters who rejected opposition's acceptance to Gulf deal take part in a rally in Sanaa, capital of Yemen, April 26, 2011. Yemeni officials from the ruling party and opposition said Tuesday they received official invitation from leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to attend Riyadh meeting on Wednesday to sign a deal for transferring power from the Yemeni president.

Yemeni officials from the ruling party and opposition said Tuesday they will head for Riyadh next Monday to sign a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) deal as the GCC secretary general just postponed it from Wednesday to next Monday.

The opposition spokesman Mohamed Qahtan told Xinhua that they were informed that GCC has put off the meeting till next Monday and they will send the representatives of the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) to Riyadh to sign the deal, under which President Ali Abdullah Saleh would leave office within 30 days after inking the deal.

Earlier, the ruling party spokesman Tarik al-Shami told Xinhua that they have received the invitation and will go to Saudi capital Riyadh to sign the GCC deal with the opposition.

Saleh's ruling General People's Congress party last week accepted the GCC deal in full, while the JMP sent their entire approval to GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani late on Monday.

The GCC plan stated that the opposition JMP to form a national unity government within seven days after signing the deal and then Saleh should leave office within 30 days in return of immunity from prosecution, the new government should arrange presidential and parliamentary elections in 60 days.

The anti-government slogans were echoed simultaneously on Tuesday by tens of thousands of protesters in the capital Sanaa and other major provinces of Al-Hodayda, Taiz, Ibb, Al-Bayda, Hadramout and Aden, according to witnesses.

Deadly clashes took place in southern province of Taiz, some 200 km south of Sanaa, where protester Mazin Abdullah was shot dead by snipers and 13 others were injured, a witness told Xinhua on Tuesday.

The clashes erupted after tens of thousands of protesters packed streets of Taiz to protest the opposition's full acceptance to the deal despite the repeated demand of immediate end to the 33- year rule of Saleh and prosecuting him and his aides, added the witness.

In the southern main port city of Aden, four protesters were shot injured when the police forces opened fire to attempt to put down the protest on Tuesday, a local police official told Xinhua.

In the Red Sea province of Al-Hodayda, at least eight protesters were wounded in clashes after the protesters marched through streets and shouted slogans against President Saleh, a local police official said Tuesday.

In capital Sanaa, tens of thousands of protesters continued on Tuesday their sit-in outside Sanaa University, repeating their rejection to the GCC plan, said witnesses.

President Saleh, who has faced three-month-long protests demanding an immediate end to his long-time rule, warned to form a new government from his ruling party and his allies if the opposition hinders the GCC plan.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama welcomed Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan to the White House Tuesday for closed door talks on security in the volatile Middle East.

The meeting, in the Oval Office, was closed to journalists and the two leaders made no public remarks, though photographers were allowed into the room for a few seconds to see the crown prince and the president talking quietly.

"The two leaders had a productive and wide-ranging discussion which focused on our common strategic interests in the region," according to a short White House statement.

The UAE, a key US strategic and export partner, and Qatar were the only Arab states to send warplanes for operations over Libya, where strongman Moamer Kadhafi's forces are battling Western-backed rebels.

The emir of Qatar was also granted a meeting with Obama in the Oval Office this month.

Obama has been discussing the turmoil throughout the Middle East and the Arab world -- a dominant US foreign policy interest -- in all his recent talks and telephone calls with regional leaders.

Tuesday's talks came as NATO powers seek to shield Libyan civilians from Kadhafi's forces, as the Syrian government violently puts down opposition protests and with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process at a standstill.

Washington was also concerned when tense relations between Gulf Arab states and Iran were exacerbated after the mid-March intervention of Gulf security forces, including a contingent from the UAE, in Sunni-ruled Bahrain where security forces crushed a Shiite-led pro-democracy uprising.

The intervention sparked a war of words between various Gulf Arab states and their neighbor Iran, a long-time foe of the United States.

According to the State Department, the UAE is the single largest US export market in the Middle East and hosts more American naval ships than any port outside the United States.

On the other hand, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan voiced concern on Tuesday over Syria's violent crackdown on demonstrators and said he was sending an envoy to meet President Bashar al-Assad and encourage him to move towards democracy.

Erdogan has friendly relations with Assad and has since the early days of the unrest urged him to show restraint and make reforms desired by the Syrian people, or risk the fate suffered by Arab leaders who have been toppled by uprisings this year.

Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters have been killed in Syria's revolt, and on Monday Assad sent tanks and artillery to try to crush the uprising in Deraa, the city where it started.

"I told Assad clearly our worries and anxiety because of current developments," Erdogan said. "The current process is a disturbing process."

He said Assad's decision last Thursday to lift 48-year-old emergency laws was a good start, but he needed to do more.

Many Syrians regard the reforms announced last week as an empty gesture.

"There are more steps to be taken in Syria," Erdogan told a joint news conference with the visiting premier of Kyrgyzstan. "We absolutely do not expect or want an undemocratic implementation and certainly not an authoritarian, totalitarian, patronizing structure. Our desire is that ... a rapid democratization process takes place. Our representatives will present to him (Assad) some of our preparations."

He said the envoy might go to Damascus as soon as Thursday.

European governments urged Syria on Tuesday to end the violence. Washington said on Monday it was studying sanctions and Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal on Tuesday proposed the European Union suspend aid to Damascus and impose an arms embargo and sanctions against its leaders.

Turkey, a predominantly Muslim member of NATO with growing influence in the Middle East, has built good relations in the last few years with Muslim neighbors such as Syria.

Obama spoke with Erdogan on Monday about the crises in Syria and Libya.

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan said in a message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that UAE stands alongside Syria facing the current situation, Syria's official SANA news agency reported.

The message was conveyed by visiting UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan who talked with Assad over the overall reforms the Syrian leadership is undertaking, and the situation in the Gulf region, especially in Bahrain and Yemen.

Syria has been gripped by more than five weeks of protests, which it blamed on armed gangs and foreign conspiracy.

European nations summoned Syrian ambassadors Wednesday in a coordinated demand that President Bashar Assad stop gunning down his people, and Germany said sanctions were possible if the crackdown didn't ease.

The United States called on the U.N.'s top human rights body to approve an independent investigation and recommend prosecution if violations of international human rights law are uncovered.

A draft resolution to be considered Friday at an emergency session of the U.N. Human Rights Council demands an immediate end to Assad's efforts to crush the protests. It also calls on Syria to lift its ban on nearly all foreign media and ease restrictions on the Internet and telecommunications.

France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain all separately told Syrian ambassadors that they condemned the violence and said that Assad must change tactics.

The German government said it would strongly support European Union sanctions against the Syrian leadership.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said an arms embargo, asset freezes and travel restrictions were possible.

"If there is not an immediate change of course by the Syrian leadership, the international community will have to come up with consequences — then sanctions against Syria will be inevitable," Westerwelle said.

Underscoring sharp distinctions in Western responses to violent repression in the Arab world, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday that, despite hundreds of deaths of the streets of Syria, it was "not too late" for Assad to enact reforms to end the crisis.

"We are at a different stage in Syria," Hague said, comparing the bloodshed there to that in Libya, where an uprising against Moammar Gadhafi took root in mid-February and led to the establishment of a rebel administration in the east of the country and NATO air strikes in support of the Libyan rebels.

Hague said of Assad, "it is not too late for him to say he is going to do those reforms." In Libya, by contrast, he told the BBC, "time is not on Gadhafi's side."

The city at the heart of Syria's monthlong uprising ran low on food, water and medicine Wednesday as the army sent in more tanks and reinforcements, witnesses said.

Two residents in Deraa said at least five army officers had sided with demonstrators, and soldiers sent into the city were quietly refusing orders to detain people at checkpoints and were allowing some people through to get scarce supplies.

But the Syrian government denied that there had been any splits in the military, which is seen as fiercely loyal to Assad. Gunfire and sporadic explosions were heard in Deraa, two days after the military rolled in. The army also deployed tanks around the Damascus suburb of Douma and the coastal city of Banias, the site of large protests recently.

"We have no electricity, no water, no telephones and no bread," resident Abdullah Abazeid said by satellite telephone from Deraa, where the uprising began more than five weeks ago. "The situation is terrible."

On Wednesday, six weeks after the antigovernment protests began, a group of opposition figures announced what they called a united front, calling on the Syrian army to side with the protesters and protect them from the feared state security apparatus.

Underscoring the challenges facing it in a police state, the group insisted on keeping the names of its members in Syria anonymous to protect them — all but two in Deraa, who were assumed to be already exposed.

"Syria is at a crossroads," said the statement from the opposition group, the National Initiative for Change. "The best option is for the leadership of the regime to lead a transition to democracy that would safeguard the nation from falling into a period of violence, chaos and civil war."

Iraq has only weeks to decide if it wants to keep U.S. troops beyond an end-2011 deadline for their withdrawal, the top U.S. military officer said Friday in Baghdad following talks with Iraq's prime minister.

The comments by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, are the strongest so far by U.S. officials warning Baghdad that Washington will soon have to initiate the withdrawal of its 47,000 forces under the terms of a bilateral security pact.

Asked what Iraq's deadline was for deciding, Mullen said: "I think the timeline is in the next few weeks."

"Because there, for the withdrawal, there is what I call a physics problem with 47,000 troops here, lots of equipment and physically it just takes time to move them."

Mullen did not speculate how many troops would be irreversibly committed to withdrawing after that time, saying only the Pentagon would need to make some "irrevocable" logistics and operational decisions.

More than eight years after the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, Iraq is struggling to halt a weakened but still lethal Islamist insurgency and put an end to a long period of political instability after general elections in March 2010.

Amid media speculation about backroom talks to clinch an agreement, Mullen said there have been no official discussions on the extended presence of U.S. forces beyond December.

He said the U.S. military would fully meet its obligations under the security pact to move troops out of Iraq by year-end.

"There are no plans -- nor have there been any requests from the Iraqi government -- for any residual U.S. force presence here after this December," he said.

Any decision by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to extend the presence of U.S. troops is risky.

Anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Sadrist bloc is part of Maliki's government, will unleash his Mehdi Army militia if U.S. troops fail to leave Iraq by year-end, his aides said earlier this month.

Mullen criticized those comments as "irresponsible."

"The extension of that statement is to essentially threaten violence in the future and Iraq has seen more than its fair share of violence and death," Mullen said.

Sadr's political movement won strong support in elections last year and overcame animosity toward Maliki to join his coalition government.

"So I think a statement like that ... is irresponsible in terms of taking care of Iraqi citizens in the future," Mullen said.

Sadr's Mehdi Army fought U.S. troops after the 2003 invasion and during the height of Iraq's sectarian violence in 2006-7.

Maliki sent government troops to crush the militia in 2008.

Mullen also acknowledged Iraq's political leaders had to take "everything into consideration" when reviewing the future of the U.S.-Iraq relationship. But he also noted Iraqi "vulnerabilities," including in air defense and intelligence.

Maliki said in a statement released on his website late on Thursday after his talks with Mullen the government was keen to develop relations with the United States, particularly with regards to training and arming its security forces.

"Our security forces are now able to hold the responsibility, preserve the security and to act professionally and patriotically," Maliki said. "We will enhance its combat ability through supplying it with modern arms and equipment."