UN vote calls for Yemen President to hand over power

UK-sponsored Security Council resolution puts pressure on Saleh to accept political deal

President Ali Abdullah Saleh was urged to step down by the UN Security Council last night as members voted for a UK-sponsored resolution which condemned his violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.

But there were complaints from some that it failed to go far enough in putting pressure on the Yemeni leader.

The resolution, which won unanimous support at the 15-member body in New York, called on those responsible for the crackdown to be held accountable and demanded an immediate transfer of power to President Saleh's deputy.

However, it failed to explain exactly what measures could be deployed if the regime failed to comply. Moreover, by offering diplomatic immunity to President Saleh after he steps down, the resolution fell far short of what some campaigners had been hoping for.

Speaking at the United Nations earlier this week, the Yemeni protest leader Tawakul Karman, who along with two Liberian women was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month, had branded President Saleh a "war criminal".

She implored UN members to reject a peace plan drawn up by the Gulf Arab states, which suggested granting immunity to Mr Saleh and also asked for his assets to be frozen and his case to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

But a draft of the resolution, seen by the Reuters news agency, revealed that Security Council members were not asking for President Saleh to be referred to the ICC.

The document did not explicitly back the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) proposal which would have granted the Yemeni leader immunity from prosecution, but instead called for an agreement based on the GCC's original blueprint. "Everyone on the council recognises that there's a need for a political deal in Yemen," said one diplomat. "Unfortunately, the GCC deal's the only game in town."

In June President Saleh was wounded in an explosion at his palace. After he travelled to Saudi Arabia for treatment, opposition groups attempted to convince him to step down and hand over power. He refused, and returned to the country last month.

The political situation in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world, has deteriorated steadily in recent weeks, with dozens killed in the past few days.

Last night's push for a UN Security Council resolution is the culmination of months of diplomacy aimed at preventing an implosion of power.

Despite Russia and China blocking a resolution against the Syrian regime earlier this month, Western officials said they expected the veto-holding members to allow the vote on Yemen to pass.

"The situation in Yemen is different," said one diplomat. "The opposition in Yemen, unlike in Syria, is armed and dangerous. The situation needs to be dealt with and the Russians know it. A political solution is necessary."