Backgrounder: Basic facts about Yemen

Updated: 2011-11-24 06:30


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SANAA - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed the power transfer deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, representatives of the Yemeni ruling party and the opposition signed the implementation mechanism of the deal under which Saleh would leave office within 30 days in return for immunity from prosecution.

The following are basic facts about Yemen:

Bordering Saudi Arabia on the north, Oman on the east, the Red Sea on the west and the Gulf of Aden on the south, Yemen covers an area of 555,000 square km which is of strategic importance to the world oil supplies.

Yemen which has a population of 23.8 million is an agricultural country with 75 percent of the population engaged in agriculture. Cotton, coffee, grain, corn, barley, soybean, sesame, tobacco leaf are Yemen's major agricultural products.

Yemen is rich in such resources as copper, iron, chrome, aluminium, gold, silver, coal, oil, natural gas and gypsum. Yemen has oil reserves standing at 6 billion barrels and 500 billion cubic meters of natural gas reserves.

Northern and southern parts of Yemen unified in 1990 under a deal between the People's General Congress Party and the Yemeni Socialist Party. However, the country witnessed a civil war in 1994 after the two parties fell apart.

In July 1978, Ali Abdullah Saleh was elected president of North Yemen after his predecessor was killed in a bomb attack a month earlier. Saleh had been the leader of North Yemen until 1990 when he became the chairman of the presidential council of the Republic of Yemen, which was formed following the unity of North Yemen and South Yemen.

In 1999, Saleh became Yemen's first directly elected president in the first presidential election of the unified Yemen, winning 96.3 percent of the vote.

Mass protests that erupted in Yemen in January demanded an end to President Saleh's 33-year rule and pushed the country toward civil war.

Months of fights between forces loyal to the president and opposition armed groups have left thousands of killed and injured.

In the volatile southern province of Abyan, al-Qaida militants who took advantage of the months-long conflicts in the country have seized several towns after severe fighting with government troops.

In January 2009, al-Qaida affiliates in Saudi Arabia and Yemen officially merged and formed al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula ( AQAP), mainly entrenching in Yemen's southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwa.

The worsening security situation in Yemen, which is one of the most impoverished countries in the world created a haven for al- Qaida to plot, plan and mount attacks locally and internationally.

The terrorist group claimed responsibility for a failed Christmas Day attempt to blow up a U.S. passenger plane bound for Detroit in 2009. The Yemeni government has intensified security operations and air raids against the AQAP after the group claimed responsibility for sending parcel bombs by cargo planes bound for the United States in late October 2010.

In August 2010, the United States said the group was a serious threat after the latter announced that it had formed an army of 12, 000 fighters in south Yemen to wage a "holy war" against the country's security services and foreign interests.

The Gulf countries proposed an deal in April which stipulated Saleh to quit in 30 days and hand over power to his deputy Hadi, who would then form an opposition-led national government and arrange presidential elections in 60 days. However, the embattled president has backed out of signing the deal three times in the last minute.

The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution late October condemning violence in Yemen and urged Saleh to sign the Gulf-brokered deal to cede power.

Prolonged conflicts have plagued the country for nine months, crippling its economy. The Yemeni government said it has lost over 10 billion U.S. dollars in revenues since protests demanding the ouster of President Saleh erupted late January.

"Yemen has lost more than 10 billion U.S. dollars during the 10- month-old protests due to the sporadic suspension of oil and gas production and export, as well as decline in revenues of tariff and taxes because of the stoppage in activities of the private sector," the Ministry of Trade and Industry said in a statement carried by the state-run daily Al-Thowra on November 9.

"The losses amounted to about 31 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), which forced the government to import oil and gas derivatives to meet domestic needs," it added.

The Yemeni government depends on oil exports for up to 70 percent of its budget.