SANA, Yemen — A deal to end Yemen’s political crisis neared collapse yesterday after the country’s embattled president refused to sign it, leaving a deadlock that threatens to plunge the impoverished Arab nation and key United States ally deeper into disorder and bloodshed.
An unraveling of the deal for Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down after nearly three months of protests against his rule would greatly increase the prospects of more bloodshed in a nation long beset by serious conflict and deep poverty and which is home to Al Qaeda’s most active offshoot.
At least 140 people have been killed in the government’s crackdown on the protesters, who have nonetheless grown in number week after week. The violence, which has included sniper attacks, has prompted several top military commanders, ruling party members, diplomats, and others to defect to the opposition, largely isolating the president.
Still, Saleh has clung to power, due in part to the key backing of Yemen’s best trained and equipped military units, which are under the command of one of his sons and other close relatives.
“There will likely be more violence now,’’ said analyst Fares al-Saqqaf. “It the end, we may have foreign intervention to end the chaos and bloodshed,’’ he predicted.
A mediation plan put forward by six US allies grouped in the Gulf Cooperation Council had looked close to fruition, with the established opposition political parties and Saleh agreeing to it. The plan called for Saleh to step down within 30 days and for a national unity government to run the country until elections are held. The proposals also gave Saleh immunity from prosecution.
The council nations’ foreign ministers met yesterday in Riyadh and said they were sending the council’s secretary general, Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, back to Yemen to try to salvage the deal. The council represents Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain.
The street protesters rejected the deal and said nothing less than Saleh’s immediate resignation would persuade them to halt their demonstrations.
Saleh told a council envoy late Saturday that he would send representatives to sign the deal — rather than signing it himself — at a ceremony that had been scheduled for yesterday or today in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
The opposition said it would not sign it unless Saleh did and the council said it was indefinitely postponing the ceremony.
SyriaThe Syrian military intensified its vigorous assault on Daraa, the besieged city at the center of the country’s uprising, yesterday as defiant residents who have been pinned down in their homes for nearly a week struggled to find food, pass along information, and bury their dead.
President Bashar Assad is determined to crush the six-week-old revolt, which began in the southern city but quickly spread across the nation of some 23 million people.
Now, the once-unthinkable protests are posing the most serious challenge to four decades of rule by the Assad family in one of the most repressive and tightly controlled countries in the Middle East.