Yemen stalemate continues as both sides fail to sign agreement

Negotiations will continue tomorrow (Thursday) and President Ali Abdullah Saleh is finally expected to sign a deal that will see his resignation from power, sources said.

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SANA'A //  Despite reports earlier that the political stalemate in Yemen was over, it continued tonight as spokesmen for both the country's president and his opponents say they agreed to another revised proposal  but refused to sign it.

Tonight, the chief Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) negotiator presented yet another version of the agreement calling for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh for both camps to consider. The only change to a draft presented earlier was the number of people required to sign it.

Negotiations will continue tomorrow (Thursday) and Mr Saleh is finally expected to sign it, sources said.

A settlement was entering its final stages Tuesday night as both the ruling General People’s Congress party (GPC) and the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), agreed to sign a proposal brokered by the GCC.

The deal would grant Mr Saleh immunity from prosecution, allowing him a dignified exit from power. The US and European powers reportedly took a more aggressive role in the talks.

But after more negotiations today, the agreement remained unsigned.

The amended agreement presented last night requires that a total of 10 people, five from each side, sign the pact. The previous draft required only the signatures of Mr Saleh and the president of the JMP.

Abdul Latif al-Zayani, general secretary of the GCC, has been pressing both sides to settle the stalemate.

Mr Zayani “gave President Saleh a 24 hour deadline to accept the proposal, but Saleh did not sign as planned,” said Hasan Zaid, the secretary general of the opposition Haq Party.

But an aide to Mr Saleh, Zaid Thari, blamed the opposition for the delay. He said Mr Saleh agreed to sign the proposal, but the opposition are the ones delaying the signing. “The main points have been agreed on from both differing sides in the Yemeni political arena. Saleh is ready to sign the proposal as president of Yemen and on behalf of the ruling party,” Mr Thari said.

Mr Zaid is not surprised at the delay and expects the GCC will once again give Mr Saleh more time.

“This is a life or death situation for Saleh, and him signing means that his rule will be over in 30 days. He is not ready to leave yet,” Mr Zaid said. “GCC is not being firm in their demands and Saleh is playing his normal game.”

Opposition member Ahmed Bahri, who met Mr Zayani this afternoon, said that no timetable has been reached for the signing, and Mr Zayani was keeping his hopes high. Mr Bahri, a JMP official, said: “Zayani explained to us how difficult it has been, but feels he is too close to succeeding now to call it quits.”

Mr Zayani met six Gulf ambassadors in Yemen at the residence of Sheikh Mohammed Abu Lahoum, president of the opposition Building and Justice Party, explaining to them the changes in the proposal. At least six Arab and foreign ambassadors were at the meeting that lasted more than five hours, according to Sheikh Abu Lahoum. “Even when chances are slim, I continue being hopeful that sides will agree in the last minute.”

Opposition officials complained that the GCC proposal had been changed five times during the past week.

Mohammed Waddif, an opposition Nasserite party official, said “Every day, Mr al Zayani comes to the JMP with a different change in the proposal. He does not understand that this is what Saleh wants and in the end his efforts will be fruitless.”

In his meeting with the Gulf official, Mr Saleh tried to convince Mr Zayani to delay the signing until May 22, Yemen’s unity national holiday.

“For him to announce his stepping down on May 22 would have been historical and this is what Saleh wants,” Mr Thari said.

However, his demand was rejected.

As part of the deal, the JMP insisted on keeping protesters at “change squares” nationwide to ensure that young people continue to play a role in the process.

Abu Osba, an opposition member, said: “We clearly informed Zayani that even after signing the GCC proposal, the only guarantee for the success of the Yemeni revolution is that protesters continue their mission and ensure that democracy prevails in Yemen.” He said that the protesters are the biggest threat to Saleh and that is why the ruling party always demands that protests end.

But protests continued today. “We reject any initiative granting immunity to Saleh and not ensuring an immediate, unconditional ouster of the regime,” said Salman Waqedi, a youth leader in Sana’a. “Saleh is a criminal and should be treated like one.”

Last week, the JMP announced the end of the GCC proposal and said that it would not meet the GCC official in Sana’a. Two days after that announcement, JMP officials reconsidered and met Mr Zayani.

Mr Zaid said: “President Saleh is giving everyone a headache, including Zayani. We do not want to risk the GCC nations’ proposal because we fear that what comes next is dangerous and life threatening for all Yemenis.”