Yemen ruler asks Gulf mediator to delay visit

Yemen's president asked a key mediator from a powerful alliance of neighboring Gulf countries to indefinitely delay his visit, said two of his associates Tuesday, in the latest blow to efforts to resolve the country's crisis.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh's move was a political slap to attempts by Yemen's neighbors to resolve nearly three months of anti-government unrest in this impoverished Arab country.

The two senior officials said Saleh sent a formal letter to Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, general-secretary of the Gulf Cooperation Council, requesting the delay.

The visit was pushed back "to an indefinite date," according to one of his associates.

The letter was sent Monday, just as al-Zayani was expecting to meet with Saleh to ask him to resign as part of the GCC's initiative to resolve the crisis, they said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

It was the second time Saleh spurned a meeting with al-Zayani, suggesting that the Yemeni president hopes to buy time at the expense of maintaining good relations with the alliance of his oil-rich neighbors.

The GCC comprises the wealthy Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and the smaller nations of Oman and Bahrain. GCC officials were not immediately available for comment.

Saleh initially agreed to the terms of the GCC initiative, which called on him to step down within 30 days and for a national unity government to run the country until elections are held.

The proposals also gave Saleh immunity from prosecution.

Opposition parties, though not the protesters themselves, had agreed to the deal.

Saleh's associates said the president was hoping to pressure the GCC to change the wording on the initiative that would allow him to sign the deal as the head of his ruling party — and not as president.

Yemen's opposition parties see it as an attempt by Saleh, a political survivor in power for the last 32 years, to stay on as president while only leaving his post as ruling party head.

"He isn't serious in meeting his commitments," said opposition spokesman Mohammed Basnadwa.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have been clamoring for Saleh to step down, inspired by the mass protests unleashing through the Middle East.

At least 140 people have been killed in the government's crackdown on the protesters. The violence, which has included sniper attacks, has prompted several top military commanders, ruling party members, diplomats and others to defect to the opposition, largely isolating the president.

Continued unrest in Yemen risks the stability of a region that is home to important shipping lanes at the southern mouth of the Red Sea. Yemen is also close to the massive oil and gas fields of Saudi Arabia.

The country has over the years been wracked by rampant corruption, a weak central government, a Shiite rebellion in the north, a secessionist movement in the south and one of the most active branches of al-Qaida lurking in the remote hinterlands.