JNN 01 May 2011 SANAA, Yemen—Yemen’s embattled president backed away from a mediated deal that would have seen him step down in exchange for legal immunity, The [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council cancels the ceremony slated for the signing of a proposed deal on Yemen crisis after facing President Ali Abdullah Saleh refused to sign.
His forces Saturday killed four people while pushing hundreds of anti-government demonstrators out of a square where they had been camped, witnesses said.
The press office of the regional Arab grouping’s Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani said, “The ceremony, that was supposed to be held [on Sunday], …will not take place,” AFP reported.
On Saturday, Saleh backtracked on his earlier agreement with the plan, which obliges him to step down within 30 days of signing the deal with the Joint Forum opposition coalition. The head of state would instead ensure immunity from prosecution for himself and his aides.
It was a new blow to efforts to mediate the months-old crisis between the U.S.-backed Saleh and tens of thousands of demonstrators demanding the ouster of their ruler of 32 years, inspired by protests sweeping through the Arab region.
While the meeting was being held, Mr. Saleh’s forces, backed by tanks and heavy weapons, forcibly removed about 1,500 demonstrators from a square where they had been camping in the al-Mansour district of the southern port city of Aden for about two months. Four demonstrators were killed by gunshot wounds, said activist Wajdi al-Shaabi.
Saleh has been in office for nearly 33 years with several opposition members arguing that his long-promised reforms have not taken place.
Some 40 percent of Yemen’s population lives on USD 2 a day or less and one third is wrestling with chronic hunger.
In a popular revolution, hundreds of thousands of people have turned out for regular demonstrations in Yemen’s major cities since late January, calling for corruption and unemployment to be tackled and demanding that the president step down.
The popular protests in Yemen have been confronted by riot police and supporters of Saleh armed with knives and batons.
The death toll in the country since the launch of the revolution has surpassed 300.
The Persian Gulf bloc’s ministers would now meet in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, where the finalization ceremony was supposed to be held, to discuss the future of the deal.
Yemen is a close U.S. ally, grappling with one of the most active al-Qaida offshoots in the world.
Even before the uprising began against Saleh, the government of the impoverished country faced a southern secessionist uprising and a Shiite rebellion in the north.