Gulf accord on Yemen to be inked Sunday
A Gulf-sponsored accord to end a bloody political dispute between President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Yemen's opposition will be signed on Sunday, officials from the ruling party and opposition said.
"The signing will take place on Sunday in Sanaa," Sultan al-Barakani, the assistant secretary general of the ruling General People's Congress, said of the accord which is sponsored by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
"We have called the GCC secretary general and informed him that all the parties have agreed to sign, and have invited him to come to Sanaa," he added.
An opposition official who spoke on condition of anonymity also said that "the signing will take place on Sunday."
A GCC statement issued in Riyadh said meanwhile that GCC foreign ministers will in the Saudi capital on Sunday to discuss the situation in Yemen. It did not mention the signing of the agreement.
GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani flew out of Sanaa on Wednesday after sources close to the negotiations between the regime and opposition said the two sides again failed to ink a power-transfer accord.
According to the proposal, as outlined by the GCC, Saleh would quit office within 30 days in return for immunity from prosecution, before a government of national unity is formed and elections for a new president held after two months.
Yemeni political sources said that Saleh's change of heart over the accord followed intense pressure from Washington and various European capitals.
US President Barack Obama said in a speech on Thursday that Saleh "needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power."
"We must acknowledge that our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for change consistent with the principles" of human rights and freedoms, Obama said in a key speech at the State Department.
Yemen's opposition had earlier blamed Saleh for the failure to sign the agreement on Wednesday.
Saleh "foiled the initiative by refusing to sign it," the head of the opposition Common Forum, Yassin Saeed Noman, said.
Saleh, in power since 1978, "has refused the peaceful choice and is ready to do everything to remain in power," said Noman.
Before the announcement that the accord would be signed, the embattled Saleh had called on loyalists to stage a rally in his support Friday. It was now unclear if it would still go ahead.
Journalists had been also invited to attend a military parade on Sunday in Sanaa to mark the 21st anniversary of unity between the country's north and south.
South Yemen was independent from the 1967 British withdrawal from Aden until it united with the north in 1990. The south seceded in 1994, sparking a short-lived civil war that ended with it being overrun by northern troops.
Since the protests broke out in late January, rifts have surfaced within Yemen's army.
Pro-opposition troops led by dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar control the capital's northern and western regions, while troops loyal to Saleh control the rest of Sanaa.
Anti-regime protesters on Thursday staged a massive rally in Taez, Yemen's second-largest city, carrying banners accusing Saleh and his ruling party of "manoeuvering."
In Sanaa, protesters at the University Square, dubbed "Change Square" after it became the epicentre of demonstrations in February, held banners that read: "No initiative, no dialogue, departure is the final decision."
"The initiative does not concern us," prominent activist Tawakul Karman said. "We insist on completing our revolution to the end (until) we overthrow Saleh."
"We will continue to protest despite our awareness that we could be killed or arrested. We are not afraid," said Karman.
But the protesters have expanded the field hospital they set up at the square and urged more doctors to volunteer, according to an AFP reporter.
The impoverished but strategic Arabian Peninsula country has been gripped by protests since late January calling for Saleh's ouster.
Security forces have mounted a deadly crackdown on the protests, leaving at least 180 people dead, according to a toll compiled from reports by activists and medics.