Yemen’s opposition has agreed to take part in a transitional government under a Gulf-negotiated peace plan for veteran leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to step aside, an opposition source told Reuters yesterday.
Yemen’s Western and Gulf Arab allies have tried to mediate a solution to a three-month crisis in which protesters, inspired by revolts against autocratic rule in Egypt and Tunisia, have demonstrated relentlessly for the end of Saleh’s rule.
As opposition leaders met in Sanaa to discuss the plan, Yemeni forces killed three protesters at separate rallies outside the capital, witnesses said.
Under the Gulf proposal, Saleh can stay in power for a further 30 days before stepping down, and the opposition had earlier said it would stay out of a unity government.
But yesterday, the source said the opposition coalition, made up of Islamists and leftists, had changed it mind.
“After receiving clarifications from the Gulf side we agreed on the initiative and participating in a national unity government,” the source said. The plan has yet to be formally accepted.
An opposition refusal to take part could stymie the plan, and opposition sources have told Reuters the U.S. ambassador had pushed the group to come on board fully in a meeting on Sunday.
Seeing political allies desert him en masse, the Yemeni leader agreed in principle to a proposal by Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers to step down in exchange for immunity from prosecution for himself, his family and aides.
But analysts say that allowing Saleh to stay on for another month could leave room for further trouble in the poorest Arab state long on the brink of collapse.
The risk of Yemen descending into chaos is a major worry for Saudi Arabia and the United States, which fear an active al Qaeda wing could strengthen a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula.
Protesters in Yemen remain unconvinced by the Gulf-proposed deal and have called for more demonstrations.
In Taiz, witnesses said security men opened fire to stop protesters marching through the city to join a pro-democracy rally that would take them past a palace belonging to Saleh.
“There were thousands in a march who came from outside Taiz, but the police, army and gunmen in civilian clothes confronted them, opening fire with bullets and tear gas,” said Jamil Abdullah, a protest organiser.
“They opened fire heavily from every direction.”
A woman watching the clash from her balcony was shot dead, and medical sources said 25 others were shot and wounded in the town, scene of some of Yemen’s largest anti-Saleh protests.
Clashes lasted for several hours, with heavy gunfire reported. Dozens were arrested, activists said. Thirty two soldiers were wounded after being attacked by opposition members, the Defence Ministry said on its website yesterday.
In Sanaa, some opposition members, who asked not to be identified, said they did not want to be associated with a unity administration in case Saleh did not resign after a month.
The arrangement proposed by Gulf states would involve Saleh appointing a prime minister chosen by the opposition to form a unity government made up of ministers from all sides. He would resign, handing over to a vice president from the ruling party.
Further clashes broke out in the town of Ibb, where one protester was shot dead and a dozen were wounded by live fire as police tried to break up a march, witnesses said.
Security forces also shot dead a protester in the southern province of al-Baida while trying to disperse a protest.
The mostly young protesters come from all walks from life from tribesmen to northern Shi’ite rebels and southern rebels. They have expressed fears that Saleh’s inner circle could slow or stop his departure.
Late on Sunday, electricity supplies were hit in Yemen after tribesman attacked a main power plant, an official said.
The official said the tribesmen in Marib province, where the plant is located, prevented engineers arriving to restore full power. The cities of Sanaa, Taiz, Hudaida and other provinces in the north of the country are suffering reduced electricity because of the attack.