Several hundred gunmen loyal to Yemen's President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, held the British and American ambassadors captive in a siege lasting more than two hours yesterday.
British ambassador Jonathan Wilks and his US counterpart Gerald Feierstein were held along with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary General Abdul Latif al-Zayani and other European diplomats by gunmen wielding AK-47s and placards of President Saleh. They had been working together on a GCC brokered power transfer deal that President Saleh has pledged to sign.
The gunmen blocked all traffic along the major road where both the Saudi and the UAE Embassies in Sana’a are located. “We will not allow foreign states to demand things of our president,” said one of the gunmen, carrying an AK-47. Several helicopters circled above the embassy during the siege and, according to local press, the besieged diplomats were air-lifted out of the embassy.
In a speech before a military parade on Saturday, 21 May, President Saleh derided the GCC power transfer deal as a “Coup against the constitutional legitimacy and came under western efforts to create a weak regime in the region.”
Earlier yesterday morning, armed Saleh loyalists began taking control of busy intersections throughout the Yemeni Capital of Sana’a, blocking roads in an attempt to keep foreign diplomats from reaching the presidential palace and negotiating the power transfer.
Major roads throughout Sana’a continued to be blocked off by gunmen using crude, makeshift roadblocks adorned with pro-Saleh paraphernalia.
Eye witnesses reported that these gunmen approached cars stopped in traffic, brandishing handguns and assault rifles, demanding that drivers swear allegiance to Ali Abdullah Saleh
Yemen’s political opposition, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) signed the power transfer deal last night in the presence of GCC diplomats in the home of Mohamed Salem Basandwa, chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the National dialogue.
President Saleh condemned the JMP’s signing of the agreement as well as negotiations and deals that take place “behind closed doors” in a statement earlier yesterday.
According to the Associated Press, a Gulf official said the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council mediating Yemen's power transfer would drop the U.S.-backed deal and withdraw from mediation unless Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed it by the end of the day.
Yemen has been witness to over three months of permanent anti-government protests across the country. Protesters have rejected the GCC brokered power transfer deal out rightly, stating that Saleh and his family must stand trial for what they deem to be crimes against humanity committed against the Yemeni people.
The GCC deal included an immunity clause for Saleh and all members of his family.
“We reject this deal. That’s it. We won’t leave the streets regardless of its outcome. This has been our position from the beginning,” said protest leader Adel al-Surabi.
Plainclothes Saleh loyalists, known as “thugs” among Yemen’s protesters, have been involved in attacks against demonstrations and sit-ins which have killed more than 150 anti-government protesters.
Protesters also claim that these men are being paid by the Saleh regime - however these reports are unconfirmed.
“Saleh thinks this is a one man show,” said Jamal Nasser, spokesman for the Coordinating Council for the Youth Revolution of Change, Yemen’s largest protest organization. “As we can see, this government now functions as a mob,” he added.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies