SANAA (Reuters) - A Gulf mediator tried to breathe new life into a deal to resolve a transition of power crisis in Yemen on Sunday, even as the opposition said it would reject any plan that would extend President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule.
The head of the Gulf Cooperation Council held separate talks with Yemen’s opposition and Saleh’s party, which has clung to power despite three months of street protests and defections from politicians, army officers and tribal leaders.
The Gulf Arab bloc of Yemen’s wealthy oil-exporting neighbours came close last month to sealing a deal that would have eased Saleh out of power within a month but shielded him from prosecution. But Saleh refused to sign at the last minute.
An opposition official said GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif al-Zayani had met with Mohammed Basindwa, a key opposition leader, who told him the opposition “will not work with any initiative that would extend the life of the regime.”
He said Zayani had told Basindwa that the ruling party wanted the time frame of a transition linked to a resolution of Yemen’s conflicts with rebels in the north and separatists in the south — both long-term chronic conflicts.
He added that Zayani had said the ruling party also wanted Saleh’s resignation contingent on a halt to protests that have seen tens of thousands of demonstrators take to the streets daily to demand Saleh’s ousting after nearly 33 years in power.
A spokesman for the ruling party, Tareq al-Shami, said: “We requested a clear implementation mechanism for the initiative so as to end the crisis and not be the cause of the creation of a new crisis.”
Qatar pulled out of the Gulf initiative on Thursday, citing stalling, continued escalation and “lack of wisdom” a day after Yemeni forces killed 13 protesters, raising fears of a broader conflict. More than 170 people have died since protests began.
Washington and Gulf states, especially neighbouring Saudi Arabia, are worried that more chaos could give ample room for al Qaeda’s aggressive Yemen-based wing to operate more freely, and have been eager to implement the Gulf-brokered deal.
But street protesters who have brought popular momentum to the effort to unseat Saleh, long an important U.S. ally against al Qaeda, have pressured the country’s traditional political opposition to demand an immediate transition.
“Were it not for the Gulf initiative, the revolution would have succeeded. The initiative extended the life of the regime and gave it the opportunity for trickery,” said one protest organiser in Ibb, where thousands of demonstrators rally daily.
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets across main Yemeni cities on Sunday to keep up the pressure, and protests spread to the countryside around the cities of Taiz and Hudaida, which have both seen clashes in recent days.
In two towns near Taiz, witnesses said thousands of protesters blockaded government buildings, forcing them to close. But the protests did not lead to violence.
“We were sure from the start that the president would not accept any initiative that dictates his exit from power, and what has happened until now is just a waste of time. The public squares are what will decide how Saleh will be forced to hand over power,” said Zakaria Abdul-Fattah, an activist in Sanaa.
In remarks published in the Saudi daily Okaz on Saturday, Saleh said that if he lost power he would go out on the streets as the opposition and “bring down the government again,” and that a deal under which he might leave office needed further negotiation.
Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton