An agreement brokered by Gulf Arab states for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to give up power could be finalised within a week, officials said on Tuesday, as Yemen struggles to avoid plunging deeper into chaos.
An opposition official said the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Abdullatif Al-Zayani, was expected to visit the capital Sanaa on Wednesday with an invitation to a signing ceremony in Riyadh early next week.
"We expect an arrangement and signing of a deal to be completed -- the sooner the better," said another opposition leader, Mohammed Basindwa, who is seen as a top candidate to lead a transitional government.
Yemen's Western and Gulf Arab allies have tried for weeks to mediate a solution to a three-month crisis in which protesters, inspired by the toppling of leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, have taken to the street demanding an end to Saleh's 32-year rule.
On Tuesday snipers firing from rooftops killed an anti-government protester in Taiz, south of Sanaa.
Washington and neighbouring oil giant Saudi Arabia fear that a descent into further bloodshed in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state, long on the brink of collapse, would offer more room for a Yemen-based Al Qaeda regional wing to operate.
In a sign of lingering uncertainty over the plan, which requires Saleh to resign 30 days after signing it, a Gulf official said there may still be direct talks between the Yemeni sides held in Riyadh to thrash out final terms before a pact is signed.
The GCC said in a statement that Riyadh would host a meeting of Gulf foreign ministers on Sunday to "complete the special procedures to adopt the Gulf initiative," which it said both sides in the Yemeni crisis had agreed on.
It gave no further details, including on whether more negotiations would take place before a deal was signed.
Whoever leads Yemen's transitional government will not only struggle to quash an aggressive Al Qaeda branch, which has tried to hit US and Saudi targets, but also inherit simmering rebellions in the north and south of the country.
The Arab world's poorest state, which sits on a shipping lane where three million barrels of oil pass daily, has rapidly dwindling oil and water reserves and faces an economic crisis as its rial currency plummets against the dollar and prices rocket.