SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen’s Gulf-brokered deal to remove President Ali Abdullah Saleh from power was on the verge of collapse on Sunday after Saleh refused to sign, raising the threat of further instability in the Arabian Peninsula state.
Gulf Cooperation Council mediators told Yemen’s opposition on Saturday he would sign as leader of his party but had refused to sign in his capacity as president as required by the deal.
Saleh, long considered a U.S. ally against al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, had already forced mediators to split the signing ceremonies over two days in Sanaa and in Riyadh, on Sunday, and has objected to the presence of Qatari officials.
Qatar’s prime minister was first to state publicly the Gulf deal would seek Saleh’s resignation, and its satellite TV channel Al Jazeera has been accused by Saleh of inciting revolt in the Arab world, swept for months by pro-democracy protests.
Under the deal, Saleh, a shrewd political survivor who has faced three months of pro-democracy protests demanding he quit, would within a month become the third ruler ousted by a wave of popular uprisings sweeping the region.
Protesters say they will stay on the streets until Saleh leaves. They also called for him to be put on trial for corruption and the deaths of the estimated 144 protesters.
GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif al-Zayani left Yemen without securing Saleh’s signature, opposition official, Sultan al-Atwani told Reuters on Saturday.
But Yemen’s main opposition coalition said it still hoped Gulf states would get Saleh’s signature. Both Saleh, who has ruled for nearly 33 years, and the opposition, which includes both Islamists and leftists, had agreed the deal in principle.
“The matter is now with the Gulf states. If they are able to persuade Saleh, that would be good,” said Mohammed Basindwa, an opposition figure tipped as a possible interim prime minister.
The United States and neighboring oil giant Saudi Arabia want the Yemen standoff resolved to avert chaos that could enable al Qaeda’s Yemen wing to operate more freely.
Analysts say the government, which has been trying to contain separatists in the south and Shi’ite rebels in the north, fears secessionists may be trying to take advantage of Yemen’s leadership crisis to renew a push for separation.
Analysts say a 30-day window for Saleh to resign would give plenty of time for disgruntled forces from the old guard to stir trouble in Yemen, where half the population owns a gun and al Qaeda has gained a foothold in its mountainous regions.
Additional reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden; Editing by Louise Ireland