SANAA (Reuters) - Leading members of Yemen's ruling party delayed Tuesday an anticipated vote to approve a modified Gulf-brokered power transition plan which aims to pull the impoverished country out of its bloody political deadlock.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is in Saudi Arabia for treatment after suffering severe injuries in a bomb attack, has faced the biggest challenge to his 33-year rule as a mass pro-democracy movement drags into its seventh month.
Sporadic, bloody clashes have erupted across the country as a stalemate drags on and inflammatory rhetoric from both sides has increased in recent days. Tensions are high in the capital Sanaa although both sides are wary of renewed fighting.
"There is a great danger of further agitation," said Abbd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, vice president and acting leader in Saleh's absence, according to state news agency Saba.
Hadi said the party meeting would continue Wednesday.
The United States and neighboring oil giant Saudi Arabia, wary of rising turmoil that could give more room for al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing to operate, have pushed for Saleh to accept a power transfer plan by the Gulf Cooperation Council. He has backed out of inking the deal on three separate occasions.
After members of his party pushed for the plan's time frame to be modified, opposition delegates, a United Nations delegate and Vice President Hadi agreed to modify the deal.
The new "operational mechanism" for the Gulf plan requires Saleh to transfer his powers to the vice president, Hadi, after signing the deal but gives him three months to formally step down, as opposed to 30 days, at which point there will be elections and the opposition will form a unity government.
The interim government, which will govern a two-year transition period, would retain Hadi as interim president. The government would use the time to prepare a new constitution and hold a dialogue with insurgent groups such as the Shi'ite rebels in the north and the separatists in the south.
Unlike the original Gulf plan, the new mechanism requires a restructuring of the military within three months of Saleh signing the deal.
Currently Saleh's family has a strong hold on leadership of the armed forces. His son Ahmed Ali Saleh, who the opposition worries is being groomed to inherit the presidency, heads the elite Republican Guard.
Saleh gave the green light for his party to accept the modifications to the Gulf plan in a speech last month. But one of the participants Tuesday told Reuters that Saleh's General People's Congress party was still divided over the modifications.
Many participants refused to attend the meeting and some who attended urged participants to vote against the changes.
Time may be running short as tensions run high among Yemen's 23 million people, half of whom are armed. Some opposition figures, such as defected top general Ali Mohsen, have warned in recent statements they will fight back if provoked by government forces.
The government has accused the pro-opposition Al-Ahmar clan of trying to incite protesters to spark violence.
Tuesday, the military loosened its grip around Sanaa after sealing off the city for several days out of concern pro-opposition tribesmen might mass in the capital, where tens of thousands camp out daily in protest against Saleh's rule.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; writing by Erika Solomon; editing by Philippa Fletcher