Maldives calls for increased foreign intervention in Syria

The Maldives, European Union (EU), United States (US) and Arab League have convened a UN Emergency Session on human rights in Syria. The session is taking place at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The Maldives was named one of the seven most important countries on the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year.

A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed the Maldives played a key role in convening the session, which addressed the killing of thousands of Muslim civilians by Syrian security forces since the its Arab Spring began earlier this year.

The Maldives has also expressed full support for measures taken by the Arab League against Syria, which include economic sanctions.

The BBC today reported that Syria’s government said the League’s proposal to allow observers into the country placed “impossible conditions” on Damascus and infringed on Syria’s sovereignty.

The session in Geneva included a report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which revealed “widespread evidence of gross and systemic human rights violations in the country.

“The conclusion of the Commission of Inquiry is that these violations amount to crimes against humanity, and thus necessitate referral to the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court,” read the statement.

Addressing the session, Maldives’ Ambassador Iruthisham Adam accused President Bashar al-Assad’s government for missing “numerous opportunities to respond to the protests with dialogue and reform”, instead choosing repression, the statement claimed.

Adam further noted that Syrian authorities had rejected “numerous international efforts to mediate” by various bodies including the UN and the Arab League.

Adam concluded that the crimes committed constituted crimes against humanity, and therefore the international community would be expected to take further measures to protect the civilian population.

According to a UN estimate, 4,000 civilians have been killed since March. November was the deadliest month with nearly 950 casualties. Protestors acted peacefully until recently, when reports indicate that activists and civilians took arms against Syrian officials.

The Maldives has objected to Syria’s state-sponsored violence for several months. In August, Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem firmly declared, “the time for promises is over – it is now time for action.”

More recently, 11 Syrian nationals were detained attempting to get into Germany and Switzerland via Maldives with forged Turkish passports. The government has pledged not to deport them to Syria, and is awaiting the family’s resolution.

While the Maldives supports international pressure during Syria’s unrest, it also backs Sri Lanka’s preference for privacy post facto. Amidst rising demand for an international investigation into Sri Lanka’s human rights violations at the end of its civil war, President Mohamed Nasheed voiced support for an internal investigation.

“We must understand that a number of very, very bad things happened but we must be able to move forward,” Nasheed said previously, distinguishing between investigating past abuses and supporting ongoing violations.

Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed previously spoke to Minivan News on the subject.

“You can’t have reconciliation and long-lasting peace unless you respect human rights and set up mechanisms to do so,” he said. “But we should steer clear of politicisation, or the divisions that have kept the flame of terrorism alive in Sri Lanka for so long. We are saying let Sri Lanka find a way forward and achieve reconciliation – we are not saying we don’t care about the past.”

Sri Lanka’s LLRC report was presented to the President on November 15, and to Parliament on November 20. Its findings have not yet been made public.

Meanwhile, the UN Emergency Session in Geneva adopted a new resolution to increase international pressure on Syria by citing crimes against humanity. It will refer the matter to relevant UN bodies in New York and will establish a UN Special Rapporteur on Syria.


Syrian refugees “will not be forcibly evicted”: Immigration Controller

The Immigration Department is awaiting the resolution of 11 Syrian political refugees who were detained at the airport when boarding a flight to Switzerland with forged documents.

The Syrians had come to the Maldives for an alleged vacation on November 1 with forged documents claiming Turkish nationality. They are said to have stayed at a guest house before attempting to leave two weeks later.

Claiming relations in Berlin, they next attempted to leave for Germany on forged documents.

“The tip-off was that they had no visa into Switzerland, or into Germany, upon attempted departure,” said Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid. “This process, it’s a typical trick of people seeking political asylum.”

Syria has been rocked by political unrest since March, when residents of a southern town protested the torture of students who had put up anti-government graffiti.

President Bashar al-Assad lifted Syria’s decades-old state of emergency in April, only to send tanks and allow security forces to open fire on unarmed demonstrators days later.

Protestors have rejected Assad’s offers of reform as much as his crackdown. As a result, the violence has persisted to the point that the Arab League imposed economic sanctions on the country on November 27, an act decried by Syria’s foreign minister Walid al-Moallem as “economic war.”

Sanctions had also been issued by the United States and the European Union.

A recent UN report identified actions by security forces as “crimes against humanity.”

“A panel of independent experts says at least 256 children were killed by government forces as of early November, with some boys sexually tortured and a 2-year-old girl shot to death just to prevent her from growing up to be a demonstrator,” the Washington Post reported yesterday.

In light of Syria’s ongoing political unrest, Shahid said the Syrian nationals will not be forcibly evicted from the Maldives. “They have talked of violence being done to some relatives at home, so they will not be departing to Syria,” he explained.

He added that the group has said they will not take a route that involves transit in any Middle Eastern country. “They are very paranoid right now, and I’m not sure if they’re aware of international norms,” Shahid observed. “The situation has already gotten very bad, and it’s going to take a long time to resolve.”

Syrians have been reported seeking political asylum in various parts of Europe and the Middle East. A 2008 report by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada found that many Syrians who are deported back to Syria after being denied asylum risk imprisonment and even torture.

The group of refugees includes two children, two youth, two couples and several cousins. The family is currently staying in a local residence until they can make arrangements with their legitimate documents, which have been obtained.

According to Shahid, the Syrian refugees will now face sharp scrutiny when taking international flights.

“All airlines have a mechanism to share information about passengers who forge documents,” he said. “Most won’t take them now unless they have a proper visa for their destination.”

The situation in the Maldives is being handled exclusively by the Immigration Department.

Officials at the Presidents Office and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs had not responded to phone calls at time of press.


Maldives hails “new dawn” in Libya, increases international pressure on Syria

Maldives Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem has welcomed “a new dawn in Libya” following reports yesterday that the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) had all but taken control of Libya’s capital, Tripoli.

President Muammar Gaddafi remains nowhere to be found, but early reports yesterday – confirmed by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – suggested that the rebels had detained his son, Saif al-Islam.

Saif however appeared in front of journalists later in the day declaring that the rebels had “fallen into a trap”, and “screw the criminal court.”

The Maldives was among the first countries to formally recognise the TNC rebels as the sovereign representatives of the Libyan people, and helped organise several UN Human Rights Council resolutions increasing pressure on Gaddafi and legitimising Western military intervention.

“The Maldives took these steps because of our conviction that men such as Muammar Ghadaffi should not be allowed to check, through violence, the recent march of democracy and human rights across the Muslim world – the Muslim Awakening,” Naseem said.

“For decades, the government of Muammar Ghadaffi has ruled through a system of patronage, repression and fear. The Muslim Awakening brought hope that this system could be dismantled peacefully, through dialogue, reform and free and fair elections. However, instead Muammar Ghadaffi chose to use his security forces to attack and kill civilians.

“With the imminent fall of Ghadaffi, the Muslim Awakening lives on, and the Maldives looks forward to welcoming a new, democratic Libyan State into the international family of nations,” Naseem said.


The Maldives is taking a similar line on Syria it took with Libya earlier this year, insisting on democratic reforms and yesterday spearheading an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council.

“The Maldives considers itself a friend of Syria and its people, and has watched with increasing alarm as the government there has responded to peaceful protests calling for democratic reform with violence and intimidation. Thousands have been arbitrarily detained and hundred of our Muslim brothers and sisters, including children, have been killed. Worse, these gross human rights violations have intensified during the Holy Month of Ramadan,” Naseem said, in another statement.

Syria, which has failed to respond to the Council or cooperate with the UN, is backed by Iran and has taken a hard line against civilian demonstrators calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Protests began in January 26 as the ‘Arab Spring’ demonstrations began to sweep through the Middle East, escalating into an uprising in which over 2200 people have reportedly been killed.

Involvement of the Maldives

At a press conference held yesterday in Male’, the Maldives Ambassador to the UN Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed said that the small size and relative isolation of the Maldives was “no impediment” the country’s pursuit of an international human rights agenda.

“I think we have shown that size is not everything in international relations,” Ghafoor said. “Even if you are a small country your commitments, your principles, and how you work with others can help you achieve many of your goals.

“Our relations with other countries and our record of promoting human rights both at home and in concert with other countries, and our cooperation with the Human Rights High Commissioner has given us respect and legitimacy in the international community, and we have been at the forefront of a number of resolutions that has been initiated on matters of grave concern,” he said.

Asked about the Maldives’ commitment to human rights locally, and whether he concurred with the Maldives’ recent delegation to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives was the “most active national institution in Asia”, Ghafoor observed that “I don’t think there’s any country that has a perfect human rights record.”

“Without exception I think all countries have human rights issues and problems, but what is more important is how do we deal with it and how do we address these issues,” he said.

“I think Maldives has shown that it is willing to address the shortcomings it has in its human rights promotion and making every effort possible within the resources we have to improve our human rights record.

We are willing to work with other countries, with the international human rights organisations, even with NGOs to make the human rights issue a non-issue hopefully some time in the future. But that maybe a bit too much to hope for. So long as there are human beings interacting with each other there’s likely to be human rights issues.”

Speaking as to the Maldives’ position on the UN report detailing war crimes in the closing days of Sri Lanka’s civil war, Ghafoor said he did not think the matter would create friction with the Maldives’ neighbour.

“I do not see the government having any issues at this stage with the Sri Lankan government,” he said.

“[Naseem] has stated that we would like to see the UN take a more comprehensive review of what has happened in Sri Lanka, rather than concentrate on the last few days. This could skew the whole issue. So we do not see our memberships of the Human Rights Council making it difficult for us to have good relations with Sri Lanka or speak on issues of sensitivity. I think as good friends Maldives can speak very frankly with Sri Lanka and I’m sure they would happy to listen to our views.”


Libyan rebels push into Tripoli, arrest Gaddafi’s son

Libyan rebels have reportedly arrested the son of President Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam, after last night pushing into the capital Tripoli.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) yesterday told AFP that al-Islam, who is wanted on charges of crimes against humanity, was in custody.

Rebels with the Transitional National Council (TNC), now recognised by many nations including the Maldives as Libya’s legitimate governing entity, last night reached Tripoli’s central Green Square following reports that Gaddafi’s Presidential Guard had surrendered.

“Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant,” said US President Barack Obama in a statement, following the rebel’s push into Tripoli. “The Gaddafi regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator.

“The surest way for the bloodshed to end is simple: Muammar Gaddafi and his regime need to recognise that their rule has come to an end. Gaddafi needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya. He needs to relinquish power once and for all,” Obama said.

Gaddafi, who earlier had vowed to fight “to the last drop of blood”, issued a statement on state television calling on the population to descend on the city and defend it from the rebels.

“They are coming to destroy Tripoli. They are coming to steal our oil. Now Tripoli is in ruins. Come out of your houses and fight these betrayers. Hurry up, hurry up, families and tribes, go to Tripoli,” Gaddafi said.

Libya’s information ministry continued to insist that the regime had “thousands and thousands of fighters”.

“Nato has intensified its attacks on and around Tripoli, giving immediate and direct support for the rebels’ forces to advance into a peaceful capital of this great nation and the death toll is beyond imagination,” a Gaddafi’s spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim said, warning of impending “massacres”.

“I thought I knew the West. But in this conflict I saw a different West. The West of blood and disaster and killing and occupation.”

An uprising of rebel groups in the centre of Tripoli was joined by fighters arriving by sea, armed with weapons seized following the capture of a large military base on Sunday afternoon. Nato planes provided air cover for the advancing rebels.

Meanwhile in Tripoli, there were reports that four districts of the city remained under Gaddafi’s control. Media reporting on the push claimed that the dictator of 42 years had sent tanks into residential areas and fired on protesters, and there were rumours of roadside executions.

Early this morning, a rebel spokesman told Al-Jazeera that Gaddafi’s forces still controlled 15-20 percent of the city, and showed no sign of surrender.

Gaddafi’s fall is likely to increase pressure on the Syrian Iran-backed regime, which continues to target civilian demonstrators despite increasing discontent across the international community.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed that military action against Syria would “bring repercussions”, adding that demands for his to step down “should not be made about a president who was chosen by the Syrian people and who was not put in office by the West, a president who was not made in the United States.”

The Maldives is meanwhile leading a special session of the UN Human Rights Council, in conjunction with Germany, Kuwait and Mexico, to address the deteriorating human rights situation. Permanent Representative of the Maldives to the United Nations, Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed, is holding a press conference on the topic this afternoon.


Maldives calls for end to state-sponsored violence against civilians in Syria

The Foreign Minister of the Maldives Ahmed Naseem has called on Syria to immediately stop all the violence committed against civilians and urged the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to refer the issue in its upcoming session if the Syrian government continues to oppress its citizens.

Syria remains in turmoil following anti-government riots that spread across the Arab world earlier this year. Al-Jazeera reports that 1730 civilians and 406 security personnel have been killed in clashes in Syria since the start of the violence.

“The Maldives, like many other peace-loving Muslim nations as well as the wider international community, is deeply disturbed by the State-sponsored violence being perpetrated against civilians in Syria, violence which represents a serious violation of Islamic values, as well as of international human rights and humanitarian law,” Naseem said.

“The fact that such violence is increasing as we enter the Holy Month of Ramadan, a period of devotion and compassion, makes the actions of the Syrian authorities even more unacceptable.”

The Foreign Minister called on Syrian authorities to cease all violence against citizens and to begin a process of democratic and human rights reform.

“The time for promises is over – it is now time for action. That means the government must immediately stop all violations of human rights, including arbitrary killings, arbitrary detention, disappearance and torture; and must immediately allow the full enjoyment of all core human rights including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. It also means that stated commitments of reform – which the Maldives has welcomed in previous statements – must be translated into real and urgent change, including free and fair multiparty elections.”

In addition Foreign Minister Naseem said that Syria must also fully comply with UN Human Rights Council resolution S-16/1, noting that Syria had yet to comply with any of the provisions of the  resolution including the call to cooperate fully with the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission.

“The indiscriminate killing of innocent Muslim men, women and children by the Syrian State security forces, especially during the Holy Month of Ramadan, is completely unacceptable to the Maldives,” Naseem said.

“The Maldives, which is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, voted in favor of resolution S-16/1 because of our strong commitment to human rights, especially in the Muslim world.”

“The Maldives takes note of, and supports, the recent statements on this matter made by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council,” he added.


Further deaths reported as Syrian military accused of seizing Deraa mosque

Syrian security authorities stand accused of storming a mosque in the city of Deraa yesterday as part of attempts to quell ongoing unrest in the country, resulting in several reported fatalities.

The BBC reported that 66 civilians caught up in ongoing anti-government protests were believed to have been killed by security officials on Saturday (April 30) as soldiers allegedly established a presence on the roof of Deraa’s Omari mosque after storming the building.

State officials have said that official fatality figures were a lot lower than those reported in international media and included the death of four soldiers. Local television also reported that “armed terrorists” had attacked security forces in the cities of Deraa and Homs.

Foreign journalists are reportedly banned from entering the country, making official clarification of events in the country difficult.

According to the Al Jazeera news agency, the son of an imam at the Omari mosque was amongst the dead after allegedly being shot by security forces as Deraa reportedly came under “heavy shelling and gunfire”. The alleged attacks were reported to have taken place while civilians tried to bury bodies left over from protests taking place on Friday.

Al Jazeera journalist Rula Amin, based in the national capital of Damascus, stated that Deraa was thought to have witnessed some of the most severe clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters.

Amin added that within this backdrop, state television broadcasts featured people “confessing” to being members of terrorist groups that are sponsored by individuals based in Deraa, including the imam of the Omari mosque.

“We are told by residents that the imam was always asking for calm, for dialogue, and when I went to Deraa and I met him myself he did not say that people should carry guns or should fire at security forces,” she wrote. “He was adamant that people have the right to protest, that things need to change in Syria.”

International news organisation Reuters said that security forces had yesterday also arrested two “veteran” opposition figures and 11 female protesters taking part in a silent march around Damascus as part of their crack downs on anti-government sentiment in the country.

Reuters added that local human rights group Sawasiah currently estimates that 560 civilians had been killed by security forces since protests kicked off about six weeks ago.


Mubarak may face execution as protests and violence continue to engulf region

Egypt’s former president may face execution over allegations he ordered the killing of demonstrators opposed to his rule, while Syrian security officials have reportedly violently suppressed thousands of anti-government protesters as political unrest continues to rock the Middle East and North Africa.

Syria, along with a number of nations including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bahrain, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia have all reportedly witnessed surges in anti-government activism in recent months as political unrest has spread through the region leading to demonstrations against their respective rulers – all to varying degrees of success.

The BBC reported yesterday that security forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad have continued to crack down on protests during a “month of unrest”. Amidst this political landscape, news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) revealed that Egypt’s currently detained former leader Hosni Mubarak could stand trial and face the death penalty over suspicions that he ordered the murder of activists opposed to his rule.

The AFP cited reports in local state-owned media that prominent figures in Cairo’s Appeals Court had claimed that the execution of the former president could be possible if he was convicted of having a role in murdering protestors who stood against his rule at mass demonstrations across the country before Mubarak eventually stood down in February as activism intensified.

According to the report, the head of the country’s Appeals Court said that if testimony by Habib al-Adly, a interior minister serving under Mubarak, implicating the disposed president in approving the shooting of some protestors proved to be true, he too could face a custodial sentence or execution.

Media reports suggest that up to 800 people are thought to have been killed during a wave of protests before Mubarak was finally toppled. However, further protests in the country has thought to have been averted by authorities following the detention of Mubarak and his two sons Alaa and Gamal over alleged links to violent suppression, the AFP reported.

Meanwhile, Syrian authorities have also been charged with violently suppressing it citizens, with the BBC reporting have been some of the largest-scale protests yet seen in the country calling for an end to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

According to the news agency, tear gas and batons were used by authorities to repel protestors that reportedly had gathered in their thousands in Damascus to continue to demand al-Assad’s resignation despite his attempts to make “some concessions” to his rule.

State media reportedly confirmed that small demonstrations had taken place across the country without the intervention of security officials, the BBC added.

In its own coverage of the protests, Al Jazeera reported that some witnesses in Damascus claimed that some 15 buses full of secret police had been drafted in to try and quell protests, while plain clothes-armed men were reported to have surrounded protestors gathered outside the Salam mosque in the city’s Barzeh district.

The news agency added that protests carried out against the government elsewhere in the country such as Baniyas, Latakia, Baida and Homs appeared to have gone ahead peacefully.

Reuters reported that unrest was also continuing elsewhere in the region this week with hundreds of Shias protesting around the Saudi Arabian region of Qatif to demand the release of prisoners they claim to have been held without a trial on political and religious grounds.


Syrian President dismisses cabinet as protests grow violent

President of Syria Bashar al-Assad has dismissed his cabinet in an effort to satiate protesters after two weeks of unrest, mirroring the approach of desposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

At one stage the 45 year-old Western-educated leader had promised to step down at the end of his term, but now appears to be trying to placate the protesters with the heads of his cabinet ministers.

Death tolls from the crackdowns have reached 130, according to activists in the country, while the official count is 30.

AFP reported that Syrian authorities were now “studying the liberalisation of laws on media and political parties as well as anti-corruption measures.”

In his first speech since the uprising began, Assad claimed that genuine protesters calling for reform were being led astray by instigators and “foreign plots”.

Syria, he claimed, was “a target of a big plot from outside, both internally and externally. If there is something happening it is using the cover of accusing Syria of popular response. If there are reformers we will support them. Those people have mixed and confused intellectual ways.”

“The plotters are the minority… we didn’t know what had happened until the sabotage operations had happened, since then we could see the difference between reform and killing. We are for people’s demands but we cannot support chaos and destruction.”

The US has backed calls for reforms in Syria – a key antagonist of the country’s Israeli allies – but stood short of calling for regime change.

“”We support the timely implementation of reforms that meet the demands that Syrians are presenting to their government, such as immediately eliminating Syria’s state of emergency laws,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “We want to see peaceful transitions and we want to see democracies that represent the will of the people.”

Meanwhile besieged Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, who has refused to step down even as rebel forces take town after town on the road to Tripoli, backed by NATO air power, has lashed out at world leaders for their interference.

“Stop your barbaric and unjust offensive against Libya,” Gaddafi wrote in a letter to the European Parliament and the US Congress, warning that the country was on the brink of becoming a second Afghanistan”.

“Leave Libya for the Libyans. You are carrying out an operation to exterminate a peaceful people and destroy a developing country. We are united behind the leadership of the revolution, facing the terrorism of al-Qaida on the one hand and on the other hand terrorism by Nato, which now directly supports al-Qaida,” he wrote.


Civilian shootings and talk of civil war as unrest grows in Syria, Libya and Yemen

Syrian authorities are reported to have opened fire on protesters gathered outside a mosque in the city of Deraa killing at least five people under a government crackdown on protests, as political struggles continue to rock a number of Middle Eastern and African nations.

News of the deaths reflects continued uncertainty in Syria, Yemen and Libya, where reports of dissatisfaction and uprisings by swathes of their respective populations has led to violent confrontations, which in certain cases have led to bombing interventions by foreign military.

The BBC today said that five people were believed to have died as Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters in the streets outside Deraa’s Omari mosque as anti-government protests that begun in the country on Friday have continued to rage, leading to at least 10 fatalities.

The British news service also reported that Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi used his first public address in a week to speak within a compound that appeared to have been destroyed during air strikes from a coalition of western nations, where he stated his continued defiance to rebels and foreign armed forces working to oppose him.

Following the UN Security Council’s resolution authorising military intervention in Libya, France, the UK and the US have attacked targets across the country in an effort to dismantle Gaddafi’s ability to contest a no fly zone, and prevent a retaliatory attack on targets like the rebel–occupied city of Benghazi.

According to the BBC, the Libyan leader called on “all Islamic armies” to join his opposition of rebels and foreign forces that have claimed to be attacking strategic points of Gaddafi’s governance and military power.

“Long live Islam everywhere. All Islamic armies must take part in the battle, all free [people] must take part in the battle… We will be victorious in the end,” he was quoted as saying by the BBC.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has claimed that the rescue by US troops of an American pilot and a weapons officer who crashed in Libya has led to some difficult questions for the foreign coalition in the country. The paper reported that American forces stood accused of dropping two 500-pound bombs during the rescue operation raising the possibility of civilian casualties.

The rescued soldiers remain aboard a US vessel in the waters surrounding the African nation, but the paper reported that the Pentagon did not know whether any civilians were killed by the bombs dropped in Yemen.  An unnamed Marine Corps officer in the Mediterranean denied that any shots had been fired at civilians during the incident, according to the paper.

Al Jazeera meanwhile reported that air strikes instigated by foreign powers from across Europe and America – provisionally under the basis to try and enforce a no-fly zone over Libya – have not appeared to halt Gaddafi’s attacks on rebel forces made up of fellow countrymen that oppose him.

“Undaunted by air strikes launched by coalition warplanes aimed at enforcing a no-fly zone, pro-Gaddafi forces have pressed ahead with their assaults on the towns of Misurata, Ajdabiya and Zintan in the past 24 hours,” the news agency has said.

In trying to oppose the Libyan leader’s military muscle, Al Jazeera claimed that rebel forces were outgunned and had “little command structure” to oppose state attacks.

Meanwhile, amidst the conflict in Libya, Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who also faces criticisms and calls to step down from his own people, has claimed that the country could potentially face civil war if he was forced from office.

Saleh, who also stands accused of using security forces to violently suppress protests among his people, is reported to have offered to stand down from his post at the end of the year under what he has said would be a “constitutional” transfer of power.

Al Jazeera reported though that the offer coincided with the president imposing a national state of emergency following violent “crackdowns” on anti-government protests with unconfirmed reports of 41 people having died in the capital of Sanaa alone due to the unrest.

According to the news agency, skepticism remains over Saleh’s reported offer after similar vows to stand down from the presidency back in 2005 did not come to pass. Saleh has been president since 1978.

The 22-member Arab League, which has previously called for a no-fly zone across Libya on the grounds that Gaddafi has been bombing his own people, has also moved to condemn Yemen’s leader for “crimes against civilians”, calling for a peaceful resolution to the country’s unrest.

The political unrest has continued following the fall in February of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunsian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, spreading to potential uprisings in other nations including Jordan and Algeria to Syria, Libya and Bahrain.

Mubarak, who was in power for 30 years, finally gave in after weeks of protests and stepped down from the presidency, handing power to an interim military government last month.

Swiss authorities announced following his resignation that they were freezing assets belonging to Mubarak and his family, pressuring the UK to do the same. Mubarak is thought to have a personal fortune of US$70 billion stashed across various bank accounts and property holdings all over the world.

That the people of one of the Middle East’s largest, oldest and most populated countries could not only overthrow but seek justice against a 30 year autocracy has sparked a wave of political dissent in the region.

The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported one senior western official of claiming at the time that “there has been an awakening of political awareness among the young who have been waiting for solutions that have never come and are not really in the menu now. They are saying: ‘Why should we carry on like this?’”