KAREN DEYOUNG, Washington Post
Yemen's parliament agreed Wednesday to impose a 30-day state of emergency, further infuriating anti-government demonstrators who vowed to go ahead with a planned mass march Friday on President Ali Abdullah Saleh's palace.
"We will enter his bedroom if we have to and drag him out," said Mohammed Qahtan, a spokesman for a coalition of opposition political parties. Yemen's growing protest movement has demanded that Saleh resign immediately.
The Obama administration and regional governments have grown increasingly concerned at the rapid disintegration of Saleh's 32-year-old regime, whose cooperation they depend on to fight Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, known as AQAP.
Fearing a breakdown in counterterrorism operations and opportunities for militant gains if Saleh is violently overthrown or resigns precipitously, they have urged him to get in front of the situation and make plans for an orderly transfer of power, according to sources close to the situation. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid inflaming Yemeni actors on all sides.
Concerned governments have issued only guarded public statements. "I think things are obviously, or evidently, very unsettled in Yemen," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters traveling with him in Cairo.
"We've had a good working relationship with President Saleh. He's been an important ally in the counterterrorism arena," Gates said. Although the secretary noted that "clearly, there's a lot of unhappiness inside Yemen," he said in response to questions that the United States had not done "any post-Saleh planning."
U.S. military personnel on the ground in Yemen and armed drones flying over its territory gather intelligence on AQAP and look for opportunities to target the group's leaders.
At the State Department, spokesman Mark Toner said there were no plans to curtail U.S. economic and military assistance to Yemen. "It's about the government-to-government aspects of it and not necessarily tied to one individual," he said.
On Monday, Saleh sent his foreign minister to Saudi Arabia, seeking the kingdom's intervention in persuading Yemeni tribal leaders to pull back from the opposition.
Instead, sources said, the Saudis and others have pressed Saleh to come up with a plan for an earlier, orderly exit that will satisfy protesters. The demonstrators have rejected his offer this week to step down by the end of the year and have demanded finding a replacement with a democratically elected government.
One fear shared by Yemen's counterterrorism partners is that militants who have largely stayed outside the youth-led protests, which began late last month, will try to spark violent upheaval or will take advantage of any violence between the government and demonstrators.
That possibility appeared more real this week as a number of senior military commanders defected to the opposition along with their troops, who set up a protective cordon around the demonstrators. Military forces loyal to the government have set up their own protective force around the presidential palace and other government buildings in the capital, Sanaa.
Sultan al-Barakani, the head of the ruling General People's Congress parliamentary bloc, said that although the government appreciates the demands of the revolutionary youths, the threat of armed force by the opposition was illegal and necessitated the state of emergency.
Opposition leaders said that the law was enacted without a legitimate parliamentary majority and that the government's true aim was to illegally suppress protests and allow widespread arrests at public gatherings.
The escalation this week of the standoff between Saleh and the opposition was sparked by the shooting deaths Friday of more than 50 protesters.
"The ruling in today's parliamentary session allows the shedding of Yemeni blood, theft of property and honor, and the invasion of public privacy," senior opposition leader Ahmed Bahri said. He predicted the government would fall "within a week."
Saleh met Wednesday with senior tribal leaders to ask for support. He said that the opposition has no national agenda and that his departure could exacerbate long-standing regional tensions and split Yemen into three countries along tribal lines.