YEMENI President Ali Abdullah Saleh refused to sign a transition of power deal yesterday, saying it would push the country toward civil war.
Saleh has said al-Qaida militants could fill a political and security vacuum if he is forced out and, in a televised speech yesterday, blamed the opposition for the deal’s collapse.
“If (Yemen) is engulfed in a civil war, they will be responsible for it and the bloodshed,” he said.
The deal would have made Saleh the third long-entrenched leader ousted by popular protests buffeting the Arab world since January.
The United States and Saudi Arabia, both targets of foiled attacks by al-Qaida’s Yemen-based regional wing, are keen to end the Yemeni stalemate to avert a spread of anarchy that could give the global militant network more room to thrive.
The failure of intense diplomatic efforts to secure a deal came after armed Yemeni government loyalists trapped Western and Gulf ambassadors — serving as mediators in the crisis —for hours in an embassy in Sana’a before they left by helicopter.
“It failed,” a diplomat told Reuters after the deal fell through at the last minute, for the third time.
Diplomats said five members of the ruling party signed the deal, but Saleh refused, demanding additional conditions.
The Gulf Cooperation Council bloc of Yemen’s wealthy oil-exporting neighbours that spearheaded the deal may withdraw its initiative as a result, a Gulf diplomat said.
The deal would have given Saleh immunity from prosecution, ensuring a dignified exit after nearly 33 years at the helm of the Arabian Peninsula state, located on a shipping lane through which 3 million barrels of oil pass every day.
“Saleh is not serious about getting out of power. And this is part of his strategy to remain in charge,” Dubai-based security analyst Theodore Karasik said, adding that the 69-year-old ruler was no longer seen as a trusted partner.
“He might be able to hang on, but the pressure from outside is going to be so intense now that it could be his days are numbered,” he added.
More than 170 Yemeni protesters have been killed in a crackdown on demonstrations.
President Barack Obama said in a speech on US policy in the Arab world on Thursday that Saleh needed to “follow through on his commitment to transfer power”.
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