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UK, Germany withdraw embassy staff from Yemen over unrest

By the CNN Wire Staff
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Germany and the United Kingdom pull all but essential staff out of their missions
  • Yemen has been wracked by protests since the beginning of the year
  • President Saleh has offered to step down by 2012
  • The opposition demands that he resign immediately

(CNN) -- Germany and the United Kingdom are pulling nonessential embassy staff out of Yemen, they said Thursday, with the British citing "the rapid deterioration in the security situation."

Both nations are keeping small core staffs in place in Sanaa, they said.

Yemen, a key U.S. ally and a central battleground against al Qaeda, has been wracked by protests since the beginning of the year. Support for President Ali Abdullah Saleh appears to be slipping away.

Saleh has accepted opposition demands for constitutional reforms and holding parliamentary elections by the end of the year, according to a statement issued by his office.

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The statement said Saleh was "committed to undertaking all possible initiatives to reach a settlement" with the opposition JMP bloc and "prevent any future bloodshed of the Yemeni people."

According to the statement, Saleh "has accepted the five points submitted by the JMP, including formation of a government of national unity and a national committee to draft a new constitution, drafting a new electoral law, and holding a constitutional referendum, parliamentary elections and a presidential vote by the end of the year.

Saleh's aim would be to "end the current state of political turmoil facing the nation and paving the way for a smooth, peaceful and democratic transition," the statement said.

There was no immediate reaction from the opposition, which previously has demanded Saleh's immediate resignation.

On Tuesday, a JMP spokesman rejected a report that Saleh was offering to step down by early 2012.

"Any offer that does not include the president's immediate resignation is rejected," JMP spokesman Mohammed Qahtan said.

Saleh's statement came on the same day that Yemen's parliament approved a 30-day extension of emergency powers he declared last week in response to the protests. The emergency law expands the government's powers of arrest, detention, and censorship.

The president's standing has weakened after some government officials and military officers declared their support for the opposition Monday in the wake of a crackdown on protesters that left 52 people dead last week.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Wednesday for full political dialogue in Yemen involving all players to find a peaceful solution.

"The people of Yemen have the same rights as people anywhere, and we support dialogue as a path to a peaceful solution," Clinton said in Washington. Asked about putting any pressure on Saleh, Clinton said: "We are certainly making our views known on both a regular and consistent basis, both publicly and privately."

Yemen's army repelled an attack Tuesday on a military position by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, killing 12 militants and wounding five, a Yemeni official told CNN, citing sources at the Interior Ministry in Sanaa.

The official, who spoke on condition of not being named because he is not authorized to talk to the media, said the attack occurred east of the city of Lawdar, in Abyan province in southwest Yemen.

The violence against opposition demonstrators last week drew international condemnation.

Rupert Colville of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said Tuesday that the agency deplored the reported killings of protesters, including allegations of snipers shooting from rooftops.

"All such violations of human rights must indeed be investigated by independent and impartial mechanisms," Colville said in Geneva, Switzerland.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday the United States was "obviously concerned about the instability in Yemen. We consider al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is largely located in Yemen, to be perhaps the most dangerous of all the franchises of al Qaeda right now."

Radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki is believed to be hiding in the country.

The cleric has been linked to terror plots including the attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009, and he corresponded separately with a British Airways employee about trying to smuggle explosives onto planes.

Top American officials, including U.S. President Barack Obama's counter-terrorism chief, have traveled to Yemen to meet with Saleh. Leaked diplomatic cables suggest Saleh's government helped disguise strikes by U.S. unmanned drones on terror targets in Yemen by calling them Yemeni actions.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen and Mohammed Jamjoom contributed to this report.

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