SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen’s opposition said it agreed the lineup of an interim government Thursday with outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party, under a deal to end a struggle over his fate that has brought the country close to civil war.
However, progress on the deal crafted by Yemen’s Gulf Arab neighbors showed no signs of ending the bloodshed that has stained 10 months of protests against Saleh.
At least 12 civilians, government troops and anti-Saleh gunmen died overnight in the country’s commercial capital Taiz, a hotbed of demonstrations against Saleh, residents and officials said.
The plan’s sponsors hope it can reverse a slide toward chaos on the doorstep of the world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, and prevent al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch from gaining a foothold near shipping routes through the Red Sea.
An official of the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), a bloc of opposition parties that signed the power transfer plan in Riyadh, said they had settled on a division of cabinet seats between themselves and Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC).
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Saleh’s party would take portfolios including defense, foreign affairs and oil, while the opposition would get the interior, finance and education ministries.
JMP spokesman Mohammed Qahtan said the government lineup could be announced as early as Saturday.
The prospective government would lead the country to a presidential election that Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the vice president to whom Saleh has transferred his powers, has set for February 21, 2012.
Opposition sources also said they had given Hadi a list of their choices for a military council tasked with running the army until a new president is elected. The list included former defense and interior ministers, and army commanders who turned on Saleh.
Under the Gulf initiative signed by Saleh, a body will be set up to restructure the armed forces. Saleh’s son Ahmed commands the Republican Guard, one of the best equipped units.
A completed transfer of power would make Saleh the fourth Arab leader to be toppled following mass protests that have reshaped the political landscape of the Middle East.
Any successor would face multiple, overlapping conflicts that have gained force during the political crisis, including rising separatist sentiment in the south, which fought a civil war with Saleh’s north in 1994, and fighting with Islamists who have seized territory in the southern Abyan province.
In Taiz, about 200 km (120 miles) south of the capital Sanaa, at least 12 civilians, Yemeni troops and gunmen were killed, medical workers and security sources said.
Five civilians died in what residents said was shelling by government forces overnight in Taiz, a center of protests ringed by troops loyal to Saleh as well as tribal forces and troops who back the protesters.
“We are living in an atmosphere of real war. We couldn’t sleep from the intensity of the blasts. We came to the aid of five residents of the quarter whose house a shell landed on,” resident Abdullah al-Sharaabi told Reuters by telephone.
A security official dismissed the reports of the shelling of residential areas as lies and said “armed elements” had attacked several security checkpoints in the city.
Gunmen allied with opposition parties killed five soldiers and wounded 15 others, a security source said. Local medical officials said two gunmen allied to the protesters were killed.
Staff at al-Rawdah hospital said five civilians had been killed and several injured. A field hospital in Taiz also received 10 injured civilians.
“Saleh’s forces, which are concentrated in various parts of the city, fired shells on al-Manakh and al-Hasab and Bir Basha districts and the shelling continued until the early hours of Thursday morning,” said lawyer Tawfeeq al-Shaabi, an activist in the protest movement.
Protesters in Taiz and elsewhere have denounced the immunity from prosecution Saleh and relatives would enjoy under the power transfer deal.
Human Rights Watch said last week up to 35 civilians had been killed in Taiz since a U.N. Security Council resolution in October that backed the call for a power transfer and condemned the crackdown on protesters.
The group said most of those civilians were killed by artillery fire from Yemeni government forces, and called on the U.N. Security Council to freeze the assets of top Yemeni officials and distance itself from any promises of immunity.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Yemen called for immediate access to conflict zones — including one in northern Saada province, where Shi’ite rebels who Saleh tried to crush are now fighting Sunni Islamists.
“The general humanitarian situation is dire,” the ICRC’s Eric Marclay told Reuters. “On one hand you have an agreement between the government and opposition parties but this does not translate immediately ... to an improvement in the ... humanitarian situation.”
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari and Stephanie Nebehay; Writing by Isabel Coles and Joseph Logan; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Sophie Hares