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Sun 1 May 2011 08:42 PM

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No agreement reached over Yemen crisis

Meeting of Gulf powers aimed at salvaging deal breaks up with no agreement in place

No agreement reached over Yemen crisis
Yemens President Ali Abdullah Saleh. (Getty Images)

A Gulf-brokered deal to ease Yemeni

President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power neared 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 that it described as political manoeuvring, 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 US-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.

The Gulf powers who brokered the plan to nudge Saleh from

office looked no closer to doing so, ending a meeting over the

crisis in Saudi Arabia on Sunday without a deal or an announced

strategy for reaching one.

"The council expresses its hope of removing all the

obstacles that still block a final agreement, and its Secretary

General will head to Sanaa for that purpose," a statement by

foreign ministers of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council

said.

A Gulf source said a formal signing ceremony in Riyadh on

Sunday in which the opposition had been due to seal the deal was

postponed after Saleh's refusal. The source gave no word on

whether or when it might be rescheduled.

The United States and neighbouring oil giant Saudi Arabia

want the Yemen standoff resolved to avert chaos that could make

a Yemen wing of al Qaeda a greater threat to the region.

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 Saleh had been willing to sign the deal as leader of

his party but had refused in his capacity as president.

The GCC secretary-general, who was in Sanaa for the signing,

left Yemen without securing Saleh's signature.

"This is very typical Saleh. He is trying to get more time.

He puts off the inevitable. This is part of his personality,"

said Dubai-based security analyst Theodore Karasik.

"I think a negotiated solution is slowly slipping away, and

that some type of pressure is going to have to be applied as

opposed to words."

Yemen's opposition said it still hoped Gulf states would get

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.

Saleh, who spoke by phone on Sunday with the Saudi and

Bahraini kings, was reported to have told them he continued to

welcome the Gulf initiative, Yemeni state media said.

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 aides.

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 Qaeda.

In a separate attack further east, three Yemeni soldiers

were killed when an unidentified gunman opened fire at an army

patrol in Hadramaut province, a local security source said.

Violence has escalated 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 also be trying to take advantage of the

leadership crisis to renew a push for separation.

Analysts say a 30-day window for Saleh to resign would give

plenty of time for disgruntled forces from the old guard to stir

up trouble in Yemen, where half the population owns a gun and al

Qaeda has gained a foothold in its mountainous regions.

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