SANAA // Fighting between pro and anti-government forces spread through Yemen's capital yesterday and a sniper shot dead a protester, dimming chances of a diplomatic solution to prevent the country sliding into civil war.
Clashes between government forces and soldiers backing a protest movement seeking to unseat President Ali Abdullah Saleh reached the doorsteps of the US and British embassies in Sanaa, witnesses said.
At least four soldiers, two on each side, were reported killed in the intensifying battles.
The gun battles came after efforts by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to implement a peace deal failed again.
Abdul Latif Al Zayani, secretary general of the GCC, left Sanaa on Wednesday, after a ceasefire orchestrated by him and UN envoy Jamal Ben Omar collapsed after only 10 hours. Mr Al Zayani indicated that Yemen's political rivals were not ready to reach an agreement.
The GCC chief "affirmed that when conditions are more favourable then all sides will be ready to exert the efforts needed to overcome tension and achieve security and stability in Yemen," the state news agency Saba reported.
The UN envoy was still in the capital early yesterday. He portrayed a country on the edge of an abyss.
"Unless there is a deal, or unless there a breakthrough to a political solution the country will continue to fall apart and violence will spread to other parts of the country," Mr Bin Omar told Reuters in an interview. "It's very urgent that Yemenis make up their mind and agree on a reasonable way forward."
New details about the failed talks emerged yesterday.
Participants in the talks included Mr Al Zayani, Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi and Ahmed Saleh, a son of the president and the head of the elite Republican Guard, according to an adviser to the president who requested anonymity.
A chief stumbling block during the talks was division within Mr Saleh's ruling party, the General People's Congress. "They argue and differ to a great extent in front of him [Mr Al Zayani], making it difficult for the GCC to help," said the official involved in the talks.
At the heart of the disagreement among members of the ruling party, say those knowledgeable about the talks, is the role of the president's son and the GPC in a post-Saleh Yemen. As a condition for approving the deal, a faction of the ruling party headed by Sultan Al Barakani insisted that younger Saleh be guaranteed a political role after his father steps down as a hedge against the complete disintegration of the GPC.
During Mr Al Zayani's visit to the capital, representatives of the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) refused to meet him or with Mr Ben Omar.
Mohammed Qahtan, a JMP spokesman, accused the GCC of operating in bad faith in Yemen. "We signed the proposal and if the GCC is serious, they have to force Saleh to sign it," Mr Qahtan said.
Pointing to the continuing killing in Yemen, Hamid Al Ahmar, an official from the opposition Islah party, was more withering in his criticism of the GCC.
"If Al Zayyani came to Yemen in search for easy ways out for criminals in Yemen, then he should go back from where he came from," Mr Al Ahmar said.
Meanwhile, the United Nations' human rights chief warned yesterday that Yemen was at a "dangerous crossroad," amid the regime's use of excessive force against protesters, which has led to 100 deaths since Sunday.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that a mission dispatched by her office last week already criticised the regime for deploying excessive force including live ammunition, snipers and heavy weaponry to quell protests, which led to a heavy loss of life.
Nevertheless, "in the past few days we have seen a repetition of similar tactics and a resultant heavy loss of life," Ms Pillay said in a statement. "It is disappointing that lessons have not been learnt and violations repeated." In fact, citing credible sources on the ground, her office said "as many as 100 people have been killed since Sunday."
* Compiled from reports by Hakim Almasmari in Sanaa, Reuters and Agence France-Presse