Yemen's Saleh blocks Gulf exit plan

Saleh's allies can no longer publically back him amid public pressure

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has thwarted a Gulf bid to end four months of deadly protests, refusing to sign up to a hard-won plan for him to quit in return for immunity from prosecution in a move that "deeply disappointed" Washington.
In swift reactions to Saleh's renewed rejection of the plan, Yemen's wealthy Gulf neighbours announced late Sunday that they were suspending their mediation efforts, while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused him of "turning back on his commitments."
"The United States is deeply disappointed by President Saleh's continued refusal to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative," Clinton said in a statement.
"He is turning his back on his commitments and disregarding the legitimate aspirations of the Yemeni people," she added.
GCC chief Abdullatif al-Zayani flew out of Sanaa on Sunday after Saleh set a new condition to accepting the six-nation bloc's transition plan, demanding that opposition representatives must sign it in his palace.
In response, GCC ministers announced at a meeting in Riyadh that they had suspended their mediation efforts, although they also expressed hope that Saleh might still sign up to the deal, which they described as "the best way possible to overcome the current situation."
State television aired footage of Saleh standing next to Zayani and US ambassador Gerald Michael Feierstein, as members of his ruling General People's Congress signed the deal, a day after the opposition had.
"The opposition will be a partner in the transitional government for 90 days, so are we going to deal over the phone?" the president asked, alluding to the terms of the GGC transition plan.
"Why don't they come?" he added.
Since late January, security forces and armed Saleh supporters have mounted a bloody crackdown on protests demanding his departure, leaving at least 181 people dead, according to a toll compiled from reports by activists and medics.
Zayani and Western envoys were earlier encircled at the United Arab Emirates embassy by armed regime supporters, in a new twist that appeared to aim to stop the mediator from reaching Saleh's palace for the planned signing.
But two Yemeni helicopters eventually flew the GGC chief and the US ambassador to the palace, an embassy official said.
The GCC statement expressed regret at the incident.
Saleh warned of civil war if the opposition refuses to sign the GCC deal in his presence. "If they remain stubborn, we will confront them everywhere with all possible means," he said.
"If they don't bow, and want to take the country into a civil war, let them be responsible for it and for the blood that was shed and that will be shed if they insist on their stupidity."
Earlier in the day, the deputy leader of the ruling party, Sultan al-Barakani, said: "The president refuses to sign until an agreement is reached on mechanisms to implement" the Gulf-brokered plan.
Under its terms, Saleh would hand power to the vice president 30 days after it is signed, and he and his aides would be granted immunity from prosecution by parliament.
A national unity government led by a prime minister from the opposition would be formed, and a presidential election would follow 60 days after Saleh's departure.
The opposition urged the United States and Saudi Arabia to put more pressure on Saleh to sign up and vowed to press on with their protests.
"Only the United States and Saudi Arabia are able to pressure him," Mohammed al-Qahtan, spokesman for the Common Forum opposition umbrella group, said.
Hundreds of thousands of Saleh opponents took to the streets of Sanaa on Sunday, in their biggest rally since protests began in January.
Medics said gunmen shot dead one demonstrator. Opposition members blamed loyalist "thugs."