Embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Friday he wants early presidential polls, as his party and the opposition insisted a Gulf plan seeing him out in 30 days will be signed as planned.
“We call for an early presidential election in a democratic way, in order to avoid bloodshed,” Saleh told thousands of rallying supporters, after about four months of deadly protests demanding his departure after 33 years in office.
He spoke a day after officials from his ruling party and the opposition said a Gulf-brokered deal that would see him leave office within the following 30 days was to be inked today.
Saleh said his people would remain steadfast against the “coup movement,” in reference to the protests.
The statement appears to be a new maneuver by the president, who is facing mounting pressure from Gulf neighbors and allies in the US to fulfill his commitment to step down.
According to a proposal by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Saleh would hand power to the vice president 30 days after an agreement is signed and he and his aides would be granted immunity from prosecution by parliament.
A national unity government led by a prime minister from the opposition would be formed and a presidential election would follow 60 days after his departure.
Saleh has repeatedly avoided committing himself to the deal and the opposition has accused him of putting up hurdles to escape an early exit from office.
“The president is uttering conflicting messages that are meaningless,” said Mohammed al-Qahtan, the spokesman of the parliamentary Common Forum opposition following his speech.
However, “I am confident that the signing will take place on the set date,” he said, adding that Saleh himself “will sign.”
The head of the information office of Saleh’s ruling General People’s Congress, Tareq al-Shami, also confirmed that Saleh “will sign” the Gulf-brokered deal.
“The GPC has already chosen its candidates for the posts of the president and the vice president,” he said, affirming the party’s -decision to go ahead with the Gulf-proposed agreement.
Foreign ministers of the GCC are scheduled to meet in the Saudi capital today to discuss the situation in Yemen, a GCC statement said on Thursday, without mentioning the signing of the agreement.
Meanwhile, Saleh on Friday headed a meeting of the council of national defense in the presence of his son and nephews who lead top security bodies.
“The council hailed the positive and responsible response to the [Gulf] initiative, reflecting the president’s keenness to spare the country slipping into unrest,” state news agency Saba reported.
As Saleh addressed his supporters, hundreds of thousands of his opponents gathered in Sana’a’s al-Siteen street reiterating their demand for his immediate departure.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators also turned out to protest against Saleh in several southern cities, witnesses said.
They chanted slogans including “we call on the countries of the Gulf to stand with the revolution of the people,” an apparent reference to the GCC initiative.