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Agence France-Presse

Yemen Dissidents Urge Swift Action in Saleh Absence

Hammoud Mounassar

A Yemeni army soldier, center, lifted by anti-government protestors, reacts holding up his national flag with the Arabic words, 'A thousand congratulations,' in Sanaa Sunday. (Hani Mohammed/AP)

SANAA – Yemeni dissidents called on Monday for a swift power transfer as the opposition vowed to block the return of President Ali Abdullah Saleh whose party insists he will be back after surgery in Saudi Arabia.

Saleh, hurt by an explosion as he prayed at a mosque inside the presidential compound, is convalescing in Riyadh after undergoing two successful operations on Sunday as thousands took to streets in Sanaa to celebrate his departure.

A youths' committee which has been a key player behind an uprising against Saleh's nearly 33 years of autocratic rule called on Monday for immediate steps to ensure a power transfer.

It urged "all national and political forces to begin with forming an interim presidential council... and creating a national transitional council," in a statement.

The committee also called for the forming of a "government of technocrats" to lead the transition.

The youth group, organisers of an anti-regime sit-in demonstration at a square in Sanaa since February, encouraged people to celebrate what they hailed as "the ouster of Saleh."

"The revolution has achieved its first objective -- the ouster of Saleh," it said, adding the protesters would "continue (their) sit-in until the achievement of all goals."

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Yemen's capital on Sunday to celebrate what they said was the end of Saleh's regime. Hundreds also celebrated in the second-largest city Taez.

Yemen's parliamentary opposition vowed on Sunday to prevent Saleh's return to Yemen.

"We will work with all our strength to prevent his return," parliamentary opposition spokesman Mohammed Qahtan told AFP. "We see this as the beginning of the end of this tyrannical and corrupt regime."

But a spokesman for the ruling General People's Congress (GPC) told Al-Arabiya news channel: "President Saleh will return to Yemen within days."

Saleh was operated on twice on Sunday, a Saudi official in Riyadh told AFP.

"President Saleh underwent two operations that were successful. The first was to remove a piece of shrapnel from his chest, and the second was neurosurgery to his neck.

"The next procedure will be for cosmetic surgical purposes. The period of convalescence is two weeks, after which he will return to Sanaa," the official said on condition of anonymity.

The embattled president, in power in Sanaa since 1978, had flown to Riyadh on a Saudi medical aircraft late on Saturday, while a second plane carried members of his family.

Saleh suffered "burns and scratches to the face and chest," a Yemeni official had said, playing down the extent of his injuries, after the GPC said he was "lightly wounded in the back of the head."

His government has blamed the attack on powerful dissident tribal leader Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, whose fighters have been battling government forces in Sanaa since a power transfer plan crumbled last month.

Sheikh Sadiq's office said on Sunday he has agreed to a conditional truce and to pull his forces from public buildings, following a request from Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.

Hadi asked for "a ceasefire and the evacuation of public buildings by armed elements... which the sheikh accepted on condition that military units and their armed groups also pull back to restore security," an official in Sheikh Sadiq's office said.

Hadi had sent two generals with the truce offer, the official said.

Political police chief General Ghaleb Qamash and presidential military adviser General Mohammed Qassimi proposed "dismantling all military and recent positions created in the Al-Hassaba and Hada districts in the north and south of the capital respectively," the official added.

Saleh's eldest son Ahmed, commander of the elite Republican Guard, has remained in Yemen. The opposition says Ahmed was already preparing to take over from his father before a popular uprising broke out in late January.

His sons must be "forced to hand power over to Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi," who under the constitution replaces the absent Saleh, according to Qahtan.

"We are ready to cooperate with Abdrabuh but the problem is whether his (Saleh's) children are ready to hand power over to him," said Qahtan.

A source close to the presidency told AFP the vice president and Ahmed Saleh held a top-level meeting with several military officials late on Saturday, without disclosing the outcome.

Hadi also met the US ambassador to Sanaa, Gerald Michael Feierstein, the state news agency Saba reported, to discuss "the importance of cooperation with the (opposition) Common Forum" alliance.

Saleh has refused to give up power despite four months of anti-regime protests that have left at least 200 people killed across the country.

His security forces have waged a brutal crackdown, while he has repeatedly refused to sign a plan brokered by Arab monarchies in the Gulf for a peaceful transfer of power.

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