Yemen's opposition on Friday dismissed President Ali Abdullah Saleh's stance on a revised Gulf plan to ease him out of power, as security forces gathered in anticipation of mass demonstrations for and against him.
The ruling party said on Thursday night that Saleh would not sign the deal until after representatives of the ruling party and the opposition had signed. Opposition leader Sultan Atwani told Reuters on Friday his coalition would not accept.
The plan proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council envisages Saleh stepping down 30 days after signing the deal in the hope that this will end three months of bitter protests demanding his resignation, in which at least 130 people have been killed.
But the opposition distrusts Saleh, a wily political survivor for over 30 years and until now a key ally of the United States and Saudi Arabia in the fight against al Qaeda.
"We won't accept unless the president signs as a party to the deal, and we call on the GCC and the United States and the European Union to put pressure on Saleh to sign the initiative," Atwani said.
Saleh had appeared set to sign the agreement, which guarantees him and his family and aides immunity from prosecution, but last week refused to put his name to the deal in his capacity as president.
The GCC offered a modified plan on Thursday in which 15 representatives from both the ruling party and the political opposition would ink the plan in Sanaa, instead of only Saleh and the head of the opposition, but to no avail.
ARABS WANT CALM YEMEN
A GCC source told Reuters Gulf foreign ministers may try to meet in Riyadh on Sunday to discuss Yemen's political crisis.
Gulf Arab states including oil giant Saudi Arabia, Yemen's neighbour, are eager to see peace return to Yemen, an impoverished state struggling to deal with internal rebellions and home to al Qaeda's active Arabian Peninsula branch.
But the anti-Saleh protesters, furious about rampant corruption and poverty, keen to see Saleh held to account, and fearful of being sold out by opposition politicians, are growing impatient at the stalling.
Large crowds were expected to turn out after Friday prayers, both for and against the government, and security forces took up positions in the streets of the capital Sanaa on Thursday night. Residents said they had heard gunfire.
There were also signs that Saleh and his party were moving further from the GCC proposal by insisting protests must stop for the deal to go through, a move likely to irritate the opposition and infuriate protest camps in Sanaa, Taez and elsewhere.
"Success of the initiative requires that both sides stop any elements that could provoke political or security tensions ... that will necessarily include an end to sit-ins and protests and acts of sabotage," a ruling party official said on Thursday.
Meanwhile GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani said he was "optimistic about achieving the goal in the near future", the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported.
"The disagreements over procedures for signing the agreement will be solved through consultations between the GCC's foreign minister's council and the GCC secretary general," he was quoted as saying.