Abigail Fielding-Smith – FT.com February 2, 2011
Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, on Wednesday told parliament that he will not be seeking re-election when his term expires in 2013.
“I present these concessions in the interests of the country. The interests of the country come before our personal interests,” Mr Saleh told the parliament, advisory council and members of the Yemeni military on the eve of a mass protest by opposition supporters.
Mr Saleh has ruled the impoverished country for over 30 years and his parliamentary allies have recently sought to remove the limits on presidential terms. Opposition parties, increasingly frustrated at what they see as Mr Saleh’s disregard for democratic reform, rallied thousands of protestors to the streets last week, in scenes which echoed recent events in Egypt and Tunisia. A “day of rage” is planned for Thursday.
“I call on the opposition to freeze all planned protests, rallies and sit-ins,” Mr Saleh said.
Yemen was already seen as unstable even before the recent unrest in North Africa. The Arab world’s poorest country is racked by corruption, rapid population growth, chronic unemployment, an insurgency in the north, a secessionist movement in the south, water shortages, a flourishing al-Qaeda presence and heavily armed tribes.
In an apparent attempt to check the momentum of popular protest spreading from Tunisia, Mr Saleh increased soldier’s salaries and cut income tax last week. On Wednesday he also sought to quash expectations that he would hand over power to his son, vowing there would be “no extension, no inheritance, no resetting the clock”.
A spokesperson for the largest opposition party said that the planned rally would still go ahead as they awaited “concrete steps”.
Mr Saleh promised not to seek re-election in the 2006 elections, but later reversed his position.