Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh 311 Reu.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
SANAA - A Gulf-brokered deal to ease Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power teetered on the brink of collapse on Sunday after he refused to sign, raising the threat of increased instability in the Arabian Peninsula state.
The pact would have made Saleh, a shrewd political survivor who has been in power for 33 years, the third ruler ousted by a wave of popular pro-democracy uprisings sweeping the Arab world. He had been due to sign the deal on Saturday.
Yemen's opposition, furious over the last-minute change of heart, said
it was considering escalating pressure on the president to step aside
after three months of street protests demanding his ouster.
"We are studying the options of escalations and waiting for a
U.S.-European stance on Saleh's refusal to sign," a senior opposition
leader told Reuters, declining to be named because no formal decision
had been taken.
A Gulf source said a formal signing ceremony in Riyadh on Sunday in
which the opposition had been due to seal the deal after Saleh signed in
Sanaa was postponed. The source gave no word on whether or when it
might be rescheduled.
The United States and neighboring oil giant Saudi Arabia want the Yemen
standoff resolved to avert chaos that could make a Yemen wing of al
Qaida a greater threat to the region.
Gulf Arab foreign ministers were to meet to discuss the crisis. But the
opposition said it would not travel to Riyadh on Sunday to join the
talks, saying there was no reason to attend.
Gulf Cooperation Council mediators told Yemen's opposition on Saturday
he would sign as leader of his party but had refused to sign in his
capacity as president as required by the deal. The GCC
secretary-general, who was in Sanaa for the signing, left Yemen without
securing Saleh's signature.STILL HOPEFUL
But Yemen's opposition said it still hoped Gulf states would extract
Saleh's signature. Both Saleh and the opposition, which includes both
Islamists and leftists, had agreed the deal in principle.
"The matter is now with the Gulf states. If they are able to persuade
Saleh, that would be good," Mohammed Basindwa, an opposition figure
tipped as a possible interim prime minister, said late on Saturday.
A deal, if it is brought back on the table, would see Saleh appoint a
prime minister from the opposition to head a transitional government,
which would set a presidential vote for 60 days after he leaves. It
would also grant immunity from prosecution to Saleh, his family and
Protesters say they will stay on the streets until Saleh leaves. They
also called for him to be put on trial for corruption and the deaths of
the estimated 144 protesters.
In further violence, gunmen launched attacks with rocket-propelled
grenades and gunfire on Sunday against a government building in the
southern province of Abyan, killing three soldiers guarding the site and
wounding four others, a local official said. He blamed the attack on al
Violence has also erupted recently in south Yemen, where analysts say
the government, which has been trying to contain separatists in the
south and Shi'ite rebels in the north, fears secessionists may be trying
to take advantage of Yemen's leadership crisis to renew a push for
Analysts say a 30-day window for Saleh to resign would give plenty of
time for disgruntled forces from the old guard to stir trouble in Yemen,
where half the population owns a gun and al Qaida has gained a foothold
in its mountainous regions.