Yemen's President Agrees To Relinquish Power

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has flown to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, where he signed an agreement to relinquish power to his vice president. The accord could mark the end of more than 11 months of crisis and violence that has left Yemen on the brink of civil war. Guy Raz talks to Tom Finn, who is covering the story for the Guardian newspaper.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz. The movement that's become known as the Arab Spring has toppled strong men in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Today, Yemen joins that club. After months of protest in that country, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has agreed to step down, ending his 33-year rule. Saleh will retain his title until new elections are held in three months, but in exchange for immunity from prosecution, he'll transfer his power to the country's vice president.

Tom Finn is covering the story for The Guardian newspaper and he joins me from the central square in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. Tom, describe where you are, first of all.

TOM FINN, BYLINE: Down in the very middle of Change Square, which is the name the protestors gave to this huge, tented encampment which was set up outside the high university back in February, when the protests first started. There are huge swarms of people that have gathered around the stage, who are dancing and letting off fireworks. And there are tribesmen banging drums and waving daggers. So, scenes of jubilation here, but generally speaking, it's been a strangely chaotic and confusing response. Some people have been firing guns.

These are pro-Saleh supporters who I saw with pictures of the president. There are also people here that I'm talking to who say that they are outraged that he's been granted immunity from prosecution.

RAZ: Tom, what exactly does this agreement mean? Can we say for certain that it is the definitive end of Saleh's rule?

FINN: Well, I mean, it's not the agreement that the protestors were looking for. It's kind of a compromise. It was a way in which the international community could persuade the president to sign this deal. What it means is that the president retains the honorary title of president, but essentially has given all of his powers to his deputy, Mansour al-Hadi. Now, in the next months, it's going to be his task to try and form some sort of national unity government in Yemen and then, to prepare the way for presidential elections.

Now, clearly this is a huge task and there's still a lot left to do.

RAZ: There have been some reports of sporadic violence in the capital, Sanaa, today, between forces who are loyal to President Saleh and those who back his main rival, Major General Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar. What can you tell us about those reports?

FINN: There were indeed clashes today. I was in Change Square with people and as they were celebrating, their chants were drowned out by the sound of artillery fire. And as I understand it, as you said, Sadiq al-Ahmar, whose house is in the east of the castle, has been exchanging artillery fire with the Republican Guard. This is, you know, an indicator of the situation that we're in. It's still far from stable here.

RAZ: Now, despite the fact that Saleh has agreed to step down, I understand that several of his family members are still in positions of power in Yemen. Do you get the sense from opposition leaders in the country that the system is really going to change?

FINN: Well, I think that's the question of the hour now. What we have is a political agreement between the opposition and the ruling party. But there are a number of other key actors, including factions of the military, that aren't really included in this. The fact of the matter is is that the military is probably the key to determining what happens next in Yemen.

RAZ: That's reporter Tom Finn of Britain's Guardian in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, on the decision by that country's President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down after 33 years of rule. Tom Finn, thank you.

FINN: Thank you.

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