(Reuters) – Yemen’s vice president said on Saturday the government and the opposition were close to finalizing a deal aimed at easing President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power, one day after 17 people died in violence in the city of Taiz.
An opposition leader dismissed the remarks and said the only way to end Yemen’s crisis was for Saleh to sign the deal or empower his deputy to do so.
The state’s Saba news agency said Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi made his remarks during a meeting with visiting U.N. envoy Jamal Benomar and ambassadors of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council in the capital Sanaa.
“We all have a task represented in translating U.N. Security Council resolution 2014 into action on the ground, and this is a task the ruling party and the opposition must shoulder together,” Saba quoted Hadi as saying.
Benomar flew to Yemen on Thursday to discuss implementation of the U.N. Security Council resolution passed in October endorsing the deal, drawn up by Gulf nations, which calls on Saleh to end his 33-year rule and hand over power to his deputy.
Hadi told the diplomats that discussions with the opposition have covered nearly 85 percent of the Gulf deal, without going into further detail, Saba reported.
Saleh has repeatedly backed down on signing the accord, first proposed in April to end months of protests against his rule that have destabilized Yemen and rattled Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter which shares a long and porous border with Yemen.
Saudi Arabia fears the unrest in Yemen could allow al Qaeda militants to exploit the situation to stage attacks in the kingdom, a main U.S. ally.
The United States and Europe have stepped up pressure on Saleh to step down, threatening to freeze Saleh’s assets.
Yasin Numan, a leader of an opposition alliance leading anti-Saleh protests, said Benomar’s mission was to discuss signing the accord, and called for more pressure on Saleh to sign the Gulf initiative.
“What does it mean to talk about a mechanism when the other side has not signed the initiative yet? They must sign it first and then we can talk about its implementation,” Numan told Reuters in Dubai by telephone.
“I believe the whole world needs to put real pressure on the other party to sign the accord,” he added.
He said that diplomatic efforts have only encouraged Saleh’s government to use force against protesters, the latest of which was Friday’s violence in Taiz.
“Diplomacy has only is encouraging the regime to commit massacres, like the ugly one that happened in Taiz yesterday,” he said.
Yemen’s third largest city observed a general strike on Saturday, a Yemeni opposition website reported, as thousands took to the streets to protest against the death of 17 people during clashes between government with opposition fighters.
The Yemeni government blamed the opposition for provoking Friday’s violence in the city about 200 km (120 miles) south of Sanaa.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghbari; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Andrew Heavens)