Yemen president promises new constitution as protests continue

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[JURIST] Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh [official website] promised Thursday to create a new constitution guaranteeing parliamentary and judiciary freedoms, but protesters were not satisfied, flooding the streets in response. In a speech [press release] given to supporters in Sana’a, Saleh promised various reforms:

The initiative includes transferring government power to an elected parliamentary system by the end 2011, shifting the local authority to full-power local ruling, establish Yemeni regions on the grounds of economic and geographical criteria and prepare a new election law includes proportional representation in addition to forming a new government of national unity.

Saleh also ordered officials “to listen to demands of the youth who are holding sit-ins.” Saleh has previously pledged not to run for reelection [Yemen Post report] and will retire in 2013. He promised not to allow his son to succeed him, ordered a 15 percent salary increase for government employees and canceled student tuition fees at public universities. Protests have continued despite his announcement, culminating on Tuesday near Sana’a University, when security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets on anti-government protesters. Conflicting reports state as many as 80 were injured [Yemen Post report], and as many as two killed [AP report].

Protests, largely organized by the Joint Meeting Party (JMP), have been ongoing in Yemen [BBC Profile] since February, largely calling for Saleh to step down. Saleh has been in power since 1978 and is considered popular in Yemen and the international community. However, he and his party, the General People’s Congress (GPC) have caused mounting political tensions due to attempts to remove presidential term limits [JURIST report] and expand their political power. In December, the parliament stoked outrage among opposition parties and independents when it amended the constitution [AFP report] to eliminate provisions requiring that opposition parties be represented on the high election commission. Although the government has maintained control urban areas, the northern and southern parts of the country remain unlawful and dangerous, plagued by southern separatists groups and al Qaeda [JURIST news archive]. Due to this, Saleh and Yemen have allied to the US in the war on terror, accepting military aid and allowing drone strikes to defeat al Qaeda. The protests in Yemen have been analyzed in two recent JURIST op-eds: Constitutional Enforcement in Tunisia, Yemen, and Egypt by L. Ali Khan, Professor of Law at Washburn University, and The Middle East protest movements: each with a story, all with uncertainty by Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of Research, Foundation for Defense of Democracies [advocacy organization].

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