Sanaa(Yemen): Under pressure from protesters and regional allies, Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has said he will sign a deal on Sunday to step down after 32 years in power. (Agencies)
However, he condemned the proposal as ‘a coup’ and warned the US and Europe that his departure will open the door for al-Qaida to seize control of the fragile nation on the edge of Arabia.
The mixed signals from Yemen's embattled President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, followed two earlier promises by him to sign the proposal.
Both times he backed away at the last minute, adding to the opposition's deep mistrust of a leader known for the expert political maneuvering that has kept in power for decades.
In a sign that he may be ready to sign this time, the coalition of opposition political parties involved in the talks with Gulf Arab mediators was persuaded to sign the deal on Saturday, a day ahead of Saleh, based on what it said were guarantees that the President would follow through.
"We accept the initiative to stop bloodshed," Saleh said in a televised speech, and an official statement earlier in the day said he would sign the deal today.
The proposal, mediated by a six-nation regional bloc called the Gulf Cooperation Council, grants him resistance from prosecution if he leaves office within 30 days. It is far from certain, however, whether it would satisfy all of the many different groups protesting his rule in the streets.
Saleh has managed to cling to power in the face of near daily protests by hundreds of thousands of Yemenis fed up with corruption and poverty. Like other anti-government movements sweeping the Arab world, they took motivation from the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
The President has swung between offering concessions, taking them back and executing a violent crackdown that has killed more than 150 people, according to the opposition, which says it compiled the tally from lists of the dead at hospitals around the nation.
The bloodshed triggered a wave of defections by ruling party members, lawmakers, Cabinet Ministers and senior diplomats.
Most importantly, several top army commanders, including a longtime close friend who heads a powerful armored division, joined the opposition and deployed their tanks in the streets of the capital, Sanaa, to protect the protesters.
Sanaa(Yemen): Under pressure from protesters and regional allies, Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has said he will sign a deal on Sunday to step down after 32 years in power.