EU slams Yemen's Saleh for refusal to sign peace deal

PARIS/BRUSSELS Mon May 23, 2011 9:44pm IST

A still image taken from footage of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh giving a televised speech after refusing to sign a transition of power deal in Sanaa May 22, 2011. REUTERS/Yemen TV via Reuters TV

A still image taken from footage of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh giving a televised speech after refusing to sign a transition of power deal in Sanaa May 22, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Yemen TV via Reuters TV

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PARIS/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union berated Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Monday for refusing to sign a transition agreement that would see him cede power, while France accused him of being irresponsible.

Saleh had been due to sign the deal brokered by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council on Sunday, but backed out at the last minute -- the third time he had done so since protesters took to the streets in February to demand he resign.

Under the transition deal, Saleh would have left office within 30 days, rather than in 2013 when his presidential term ends, in return for immunity from prosecution.

"This new turnaround is irresponsible and unacceptable," the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"We once again urge the Yemeni president to sign this agreement without further delay, as it is the only viable way to resolve the crisis."

EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, said in a statement they were following events in Yemen with "extreme concern".

"The EU condemns President Saleh's repeated failure to sign up to the GCC-sponsored initiative," they said. "EU member states will review their policies towards Yemen."

Saleh has remained defiant despite months of popular unrest, which has brought the Arab world's poorest country to the edge of economic meltdown.

His government has drawn international condemnation for its use of force against protesters, in which more than 170 Yemenis have been killed.

"If President Saleh continues to refuse to respect his commitments, France is ready to deal with the consequences, along with the European Union and its European partners," the French statement said.

(Reporting by Vicky Buffery in Paris and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels; Editing by Rex Merrifield and Louise Ireland)

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