Yemen's Saleh backtracks again on plan to step down

Under a Gulf Cooperation Council deal, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's president, would step down within 30 days of signing and be guaranteed immunity from prosecution. But once again, he appears to be backtracking.

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SANAA// A day after embracing a political transition plan sponsored by the Gulf Cooperation Council, Yemen president Ali Abdullah Saleh appeared yesterday to backtrack once again.

Mr Saleh, who is in Saudi Arabia recovering from wounds from a bomb attack on the presidential compound in June, said on Wednesday he was examining how to implement the plan of the GCC, which he has refused to sign at the last minute at least three times.

Under the deal, Mr Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 33 years, would step down within 30 days of signing and be guaranteed immunity from future prosecutions.

The ruling General People's Congress is "committed to find out solutions to the disagreement with the opposition" on the Gulf initiative, the state-run Saba news agency quoted Mr Saleh as saying.

The body is "looking for a suitable mechanism to implement it that guarantees a peaceful and orderly transition of power and in accordance with the constitution".

Yesterday, during another meeting of party officials in the Saudi capital, Mr Saleh demanded that the transition deal spell out the "mechanism of implementation" of the power transfer, according to an unnamed Yemeni official quoted by The Associated Press.

The source, who attended the meeting, said the president's demand did not mean he was "rejecting the initiative".

But Mr Saleh's insistence on more clarification appeared to be yet another bid to cling to power in the face of nearly six months of street protests demanding he step down.

Yemen's opposition parties and a collection of Islamist, leftists and tribal-based groups have accepted the GCC plan - but leaders of the street protests have rejected it, insisting Mr Saleh must step down unconditionally and be prosecuted.

The president appeared on Yemen state television on Wednesday with his top aides for the first time.

He was shown meeting with them in his Riyadh residence and the station broadcast celebrative songs to mark the occasion.

The appearance did not allay concerns of an ever-expanding power vacuum that could tip Yemen into further upheaval.

In a bid to end the period of uncertainty that has shrouded Yemen since the June attack, the country's main opposition coalition, known as Joint Meeting Parties, said it would meet on August 17 to establish a "national council".

The group would work to orchestrate more pressure on Mr Saleh's regime, said Mohammed Qahtan, JMP spokesman.

The National Council for the Forces of the Revolution would work on escalating the revolution against the regime, said Qahtan. He said the general assembly will choose a leadership "to lead the forces of revolution and the revolutionary and political change processes, achieving the goals of the revolution and overthrow the rest of this regime," according to Qahtan.

Abdu al Janadi, Yemen's deputy information minister, called the move a "declaration of war" that would trigger civil war.

Whether all parties could - or were willing to - get back to a negotiated settlement remained uncertain. Abdulghani Al Iryani, political analyst, insisted yesterday it was the only option.

"At the end of the day, all parties have to listen carefully to what is proposed by the GCC, US and Europe," he said.