Embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh has accused Qatar of a “conspiracy” and threatened to pull out of a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) transition deal to end the violence in Yemen even as vast crowds took to the streets demanding the immediate ouster of Saleh.
“Contacts are under way for the signing of the agreement on Monday in Riyadh, but we have reservations about some mediators involved in a conspiracy,” Saleh said in an interview with the Russia Today television channel.
He singled out Qatar among the six-nation GCC and accused it of causing unrest in Yemen.
“The state of Qatar is funding chaos in Yemen and in Egypt and Syria and throughout the Arab world, “ he charged.
“We reserve the right not to sign if the representatives of Qatar are present” at the ceremony, Saleh warned.
Tens of thousands in a pro-Saleh rally also gathered in the capital to mark a ‘Friday of Constitutional Legitimacy’. Waving flags and pictures of the president, they shouted, “The people want Ali Abdullah Saleh.”
On Siteen Street, the largest road in the capital, 100,000 anti-government protesters flooded a 5km stretch to mark a ‘Friday of Loyalty to the Martyrs’. Around 142 protesters have been killed in three months of protests across Yemen.
“We will continue our revolution forcefully and we will not back down even if we have to offer a million martyrs,” a cleric shouted to crowds, as they released balloons inscribed “Leave!”.
The Gulf deal gives the president 30 days to step down.
Analysts worry that gives plenty of time for disgruntled forces from the old guard to stir trouble in the Arabian Peninsula state, where half the population owns a gun and Al Qaeda has gained a foothold in its mountainous regions.
Suspected Al Qaeda gunmen on motorbikes attacked a military checkpoint outside Zinjibar, in the flashpoint southern province of Abyan, a local official said, in the third attack by militants there in as many days.
A passing shepherd was killed and a child was wounded, he said, and two soldiers were hurt.
But it is protests, not militants, that have posed the gravest challenge to Saleh’s 32-year rule. He addressed his rally of supporters on Friday saying: “These crowds of our people have said their word — yes, yes to the legitimacy of the constitution, no to coups, no to chaos.”
Friday’s anti-Saleh protests ended in a funeral procession for those killed, as thousands of hands in the crowd passed along the wooden coffins toward their graves, shouting, “The martyr is God’s beloved.”
“The people want the trial of the murderer,” some anti-Saleh demonstrators shouted.
Many protesters, already distrustful of the opposition coalition due its former presence in the government in past years, called for them to back out of the deal.
“They wouldn’t lose anything because Saleh isn’t going to stick to the agreement. If he can’t find a reason to overturn it he’ll spark a war,” said Sanaa protester Abdulsalam Mahmoud.
The opposition coalition that is party to the compromise warned Saleh on Thursday that any more violence against demonstrators could scupper the transition plan. Tens of thousands of anti-Saleh protesters turned out in other cities, including Ibb, Baydah and Hudaida, where plainclothes gunmen shot and wounded 10 demonstrators before security forces broke up the protest march, activists said. Some 13 protesters were also arrested for unknown reasons, they said.
Human Rights Watch said Saleh could not use the immunity from prosecution he has been promised under the transition deal as a carte blanche for attacks on peaceful protesters. “President Saleh and those who implement his orders, take note: no immunity deal will absolve you of responsibility for widespread unlawful killings,” said Joe Stork, the US-based group’s deputy Middle East director.
The deal inked by Gulf Arab mediators grants Saleh, his family and aides immunity. After he signs in Sanaa on Saturday, he will send Abdel Karim Al Iryani, vice-president of his ruling party, to the official ceremony in Riyadh where the opposition will sign on Sunday.
In Aden, four people, two of them civilians, were killed and several others wounded in clashes in Yemen’s restive south, security officials said. Soldiers killed a suspected Al Qaeda gunman attempting to throw a grenade at a hotel and wounded another in Aden, the south’s main port city, the sources said. Agencies