SANAA, Yemen, (AP) – The head of a regional Gulf Arab political group was in Yemen on Thursday to lead a fresh effort to find a way out for the country’s embattled president who has faced two months of mass protests demanding his ouster.
Immediately after landing in Sanaa on his surprise visit, Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, who heads the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, went into talks with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The Gulf envoy is to also meet opposition representatives in hopes of breaking a deadlock in a GCC mediation bid to resolve Yemen’s two-month-old crisis.
A Yemeni government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said al-Zayani’s talks with Saleh lasted for 45 minutes. The official had no word on the outcome of the meeting.
Saleh has been clinging to power despite massive demonstrations demanding he immediately step down.
A GCC proposal calls for Saleh to step down but doesn’t set a timetable and offers him immunity from prosecution, something that has been rejected by the opposition.
Saleh is thought to be demanding a two-month transitional period during which he hands over power to a successor. The opposition says he should be given a week.
The GCC comprises Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.
Representatives of Saleh’s government and the opposition met with GCC officials this week in Abu Dhabi, capital of the Emirates. The talks, however, failed to break new ground because the opposition insists that Saleh immediately and unconditionally step down.
Also Thursday, tens of thousands were rallying again in Taiz, south of the capital Sanaa, demanding Saleh’s ouster and his trial for crimes he allegedly committed during his 32 years in power.
Al-Zayani’s visit to Yemen came one day after Saleh struck a defiant note in a speech to women’s groups.
“We will remain steadfast like the mountains of Eidan, Nuqum and Zafar,” he proclaimed, referring to some of the region’s daunting mountain ranges. “We will not be shaken by the wind.”
But opposition spokesman Mohammed Sabri said Saleh was stalling.
“He is looking for more guarantees that he is not prosecuted after he steps down,” said Sabri.
Saleh has over the past two months used violence to try to quell the unrest, with his security forces killing nearly 130 protesters so far. He has also offered concessions, including a pledge not to run again for president or allow his son to succeed him, but to no avail.
The uprising intensified Wednesday with a call by protesters for civil disobedience in four provinces — Aden, Lahj, Taiz and Ebb.
Already, central government authority had virtually disappeared from the southern city of Aden, the country’s second largest city, where popular committees are guarding properties and directing traffic. Aden, once the capital of an independent southern nation, is also a hotbed of an ongoing secessionist movement.