Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques patronizes in Riyadh ceremony to sign Gulf initiative to solve Yemeni crisis

King Abdullah: New chapter in Yemen’s history begins but Saudi Arabia will always be of help

Saleh: We welcome partnership in power with brothers in the opposition

Gulf initiative signing welcomed regionally, internationally

In the presence of the Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, President Ali Abdullah Saleh of the Republic of Yemen, signed at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques' palace in Riyadh this evening the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative to resolve the Yemeni crisis. Also representatives of the Yemeni government and the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) singed the executive mechanism of the initiative.

At the outset of the signing ceremony, verses from the holy Qur'an were recited.

Then, the GCC Secretary General Dr. Abdullatif Al-Zayani delivered a speech in which he highlighted the efforts exerted by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in serving Arab and Islamic nations.

'Your directives and those of the GCC leaders stem from your keenness to stop the bloodshed between the Yemeni brothers and to reach a peaceful solution to preserve Yemen's unity, security and stability,' Al-Zayani said.

In his speech, Al-Zayani expressed thanks to and appreciation of the GCC foreign ministers, Yemeni President, Joint Meeting Parties, friendly countries, particularly the United States of America, European Union, Republic of Russian Federation, United Nations and GCC ambassadors to Yemen for their efforts in supporting the GCC initiative.

Then, the Yemeni President signed the GCC initiative to resolve the Yemeni crisis.

The representatives of the Yemeni government and the joint meeting parties also signed the executive mechanism of the initiative.

Jamal bin Omar, representative of the U.N. secretary general to Yemen, said that the United Nations will remain working side by side with the GCC Member States in the interest of Yemen.

President Saleh delivered a speech in which he thanked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, led by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, for hosting this meeting.

He stated that everyone is looking forward with confidence to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, GCC countries and the United Nations to monitor, observe and assist the progress of the implementation of this initiative.

At the end of the event, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques thanked President Saleh, describing this event as a happy occasion. He also wished Yemen every success and end of hostility among its people.

The signing ceremony was attended by Prince Miteb bin Abdulaziz; Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince, Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior; Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Defense; Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Prince Abdul-Ilah bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the King; Prince Mohammed bin Saad bin Abdulaziz, Acting Governor of Riyadh Region; Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, Chief of General Intelligence; Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Minister of Defense; Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Minister of State, Member of the Cabinet and Commander of the National Guard; Prince Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, Chief of Crown Prince's Court and Special Adviser to Crown Prince; Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, Assistant Minister of Interior for Security Affairs; Prince Abdulaziz bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Chief of General Intelligence for Intelligence Affairs; Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs; Prince Mansour bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the King; GCC Ministers of Foreign Affairs; and GCC Ambassadors and Ambassadors of Permanent Members of UN Security Council accredited to the Kingdom.

US President Barack Obama urged Yemen to immediately implement a deal under which Saleh has agreed to hand over power after 33 years in office.

"The United States will continue to stand by the Yemeni people as they embark on this historic transition," Obama said in a written statement.

Saleh, who has been the target of opposition protests since January, signed the deal in Riyadh, ending months of delay that had seen protests degenerate into deadly unrest.

Under the agreement, the veteran leader will hand over his powers to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi but remain honorary president for 90 days.

"The United States urges all parties to move immediately to implement the terms of the agreement, which will allow Yemen to begin addressing an array of formidable challenges and chart a more secure and prosperous path for the future," Obama said.

He praised the Yemeni people for "courageously and steadfastly" pressing for change in their country despite "violence and extreme hardship."

"Today marks a significant step forward for the Yemeni people in their quest for a unified, democratic, secure, and prosperous Yemen," said Obama's top diplomat Hillary Clinton, praising neighboring Gulf states for their role in brokering the deal. "We urge all parties within Yemen to refrain from violence and to move swiftly to implement the terms of the agreement in good faith and with transparency -- including credible presidential elections within 90 days."

She said Washington would continue to "closely monitor" the political transition in Yemen, and looked forward to shoring up ties with Sana’a.

Saleh had repeatedly backed out of signing the deal brokered by Yemen's wealthy Gulf neighbors since the parliamentary opposition inked it back in April.

During his months of prevarication, deadly clashes between loyalist and dissident troops had riven the capital, while militants, some linked to Al-Qaeda, took advantage of the decline of central government control in the provinces to set up base.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who hosted the signing ceremony at his Al-Yamama palace in Riyadh, hailed a "new page" for the impoverished neighboring country, while US President Barack Obama called on Yemenis to immediately implement the "historic transition" that had been agreed.

Saleh promised "real partnership" with the opposition in implementing the Gulf- and UN-brokered agreement, but thousands of demonstrators again took to the streets of the capital Sana’a to protest against the deal's promise of immunity from prosecution for both him and his family.

Spokesman Walid al-Amari told AFP they rejected the agreement and called for further mass demonstrations.

The 69-year-old Saleh sustained serious blast wounds in a June bombing of his residence for which he has already received extensive treatment in Saudi Arabia.

Under the roadmap brokered by Benomar, Saleh will hand to Hadi "all powers necessary for proceeding with the Gulf initiative and its implementation mechanism and for organizing early elections within a 90-day period which begins immediately after the signing."

Saleh will remain honorary president for 90 days until Hadi is elected as consensus president for an interim two-year period.

The parliamentary opposition, which co-signed the agreement in Riyadh, will put forward a candidate to head a government of national unity, that will be charged with holding talks with the youth activists who have spearheaded the 10 months of protests, the UN envoy said.

But an opposition spokesman warned that the protesters were unlikely to give up their almost daily demonstrations until Saleh has finally quit office completely.

"People will not go back to their homes until the honorary term ends," Mohammed Qahtan, spokesman for the Common Forum opposition bloc, told AFP.

A U.S.-backed deal for Yemen's authoritarian president to step down fell far short of the demands of protesters who fought regime supporters on the streets of Sana’a Thursday in clashes that left five dead.

The agreement ending Saleh's 33-year rule provides for only the shallowest of changes at the top of the regime, something the U.S. administration likely favored to preserve a fragile alliance against one of the world's most active al-Qaeda branches based in Yemen.

The plan drawn up by Yemen's oil-rich Gulf neighbors does not directly change the system Saleh put in place over three decades to serve his interests.

"It gives an opportunity for regime survival," said Yemen expert Ibrahim Sharqieh at the Brookings Doha Center. "The only one we've seen changing here is the president, but the state institutions and everything else remain in place. Nothing else has changed."

Saleh signed the agreement Wednesday in the Saudi capital Riyadh, transferring power to his vice president within 30 days. If it holds, he will be the fourth dictator pushed from power this year by the Arab Spring uprisings.

But the deal leaves much more of the old regime intact than the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya — something that will almost certainly translate into continued unrest. Protesters who have been in the millions for nearly 10 months were out again Thursday, rejecting a provision that gives Saleh immunity from prosecution.

Throughout his rule, Saleh consolidated power through wily tactics that included exploiting tribal and regional rivalries and putting close relatives and confidantes in key security positions. For years, he accepted funds from the West to fight Islamist militants, then turned around and used some of those militants to help fight his enemies.

Ruling party and opposition members say Saleh signed the deal under heavy pressure from the U.S. and Saudi governments and that he feared possible sanctions against him and his family, who are suspected of having huge fortunes stashed in foreign banks.

Some doubt that the deal marks the end of political life for the president, who has proved to be a wily politician and suggested in remarks after the signing ceremony that he could play a future political role in the country, along with his ruling party.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world and even before the uprising, the government exerted only weak authority over most of the country. The uprising led to a collapse in security that created vacuum al-Qaeda militants exploited to gain a firmer foothold in the country. The militants even seized some territory in the south.

The U.S. has long considered Saleh a necessary though unreliable partner in fighting terror, training and funding his special forces to fight Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has been linked to plots against U.S. targets.

Sharqieh, the Yemen expert, said both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia had reasons to ease Saleh's departure while not calling for deeper regime change. Saudi Arabia, a deeply conservative hereditary monarchy, fears the pro-democracy uprisings sweeping the Arab world will spread to its shores and worries that collapsing security in Yemen will also spill trouble over its borders.

With this deal, the U.S. may want to appease the protesters while ensuring it can still count on Yemen to fight al-Qaeda.

"Saudi Arabia does not want to see a successful youth revolution on its southern border, and Washington does not want security in Yemen to be in the hands of those protesting in Change Square," said Sharqieh, referring to the Sana’a square that is the center of the protest movement.

Likewise, the U.S. stood by its ally Hosni Mubarak, the longtime authoritarian leader of Egypt, throughout much of the uprising against him in January and February. For the U.S., Mubarak was a valued counterweight to Islamists in the Middle East and a staunch support of Arab-Israeli peace.

Saleh is transferring power to Vice President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi. In the coming days, an opposition group that signed the deal will name a prime minister, whom Hadi will swear in. The new prime minister will then form a national unity government, evenly divided between the opposition and Saleh's ruling party. Hadi will also announce a date for presidential elections, to be held within 90 days.

The deal ensures that Saleh's party will play a large role in the country's future. More importantly, it does not mention Saleh's son, Ahmed, who commands the elite Republican Guard, or his other relatives and associates who command security forces.

These units are often the enforcers of Saleh's regime and could remain more loyal to him and his associates than to a new coalition government.

Under the plan, the new government will also appoint a committee to "restructure" the security forces, including the army, the police and the intelligence services. But it remains unclear what powers it will have to push through its suggested reforms.

Inside Yemen, many of the protesters who have braved lethal government crackdowns to demonstrate for democratic reforms rejected the deal.

Thousands marched Thursday in the capital Sana’a, the central city of Taiz and elsewhere, protesting the deal and calling for Saleh to be tried for charges of corruption and for the killing of protesters during the uprising.

Security forces and pro-Saleh gunmen opened fire on a protest march in Sana’a, killing five protesters, said Gameela Abdullah, a medic at the local field hospital.

A video posted online by activists showed men in long robes and Arab head scarves firing assault rifles at protesters, who scrambled for cover. Some hurled rocks and carried large pictures of Saleh.

"We'll keep fighting until Saleh is tried for all the crimes he has committed against the people in his capacity as the head of the armed forces," said activist Bushra al-Maqtari in Taiz, which has seen some of the most violent crackdowns on anti-regime protesters. Hundreds of demonstrators have been killed nationwide since January.

Abdullah Obal, a leader in the opposition coalition that signed the deal, said his group would meet with protesters to try to address their demands. "The agreement does not cancel the youth's demands or go against them," he said. "It is their right to protest."