SANA'A // Yemen's president refused yesterday to comply with a Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) deadline to sign an agreement to resign, leading the GCC negotiator trying to broker the deal to leave the country in disgust.
Earlier yesterday, spokesmen for both President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his opponents said they agreed to a revised proposal and a signing appeared imminent.
Before he left Yemen last night, an angry Abdul Latif al Zayani, general secretary of the GCC, thanked opposition leaders for agreeing to the deal. Mr al Zayani reportedly had given Mr Saleh a deadline of 24 hours to sign and he refused.
One opposition leader last night predicted trouble.
"The government is preparing to start a civil war," said Hasan Zaid, the secretary general of the opposition Haq Party.
"Saleh chose to follow the same path as Muammar Qaddafi."
The latest collapse of negotiations came despite considerable pressure applied by the US and the European Union.
Both the US ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feirstein, and a representative of the EU participated in the talks yesterday in an effort to bring the wrangling to an end.
Washington applied additional pressure yesterday when President Barack Obama's aide John Brennan called Mr Saleh to urge him to sign "so that Yemen is able to move forward immediately with its political transition," a White House statement said.
Opposition spokesman Mohammed al Sabri said Mr Zayani said he was "leaving Sana'a and would not come back".
Ruling party official Yasser al Yemani confirmed Mr Zayani's departure and said that Mr Saleh would not leave power "as long as the security situation remains unstable."
Before he left last night, Mr Zayani presented yet another version of the agreement to both camps. The only change to a draft considered earlier was the number of people required to sign it.
A settlement was entering its final stages on Tuesday night as both the ruling General People's Congress party (GPC) and the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), agreed to sign.
The deal would grant Mr Saleh immunity from prosecution, allowing him a dignified exit from power.
The amended pact presented last night requires that a total of 10 people - five from each side - sign the pact. The previous draft required only the signatures of Mr Saleh and Yaseen Saeed Noman, president of the JMP.
An aide to Mr Saleh, Zaid Thari, blamed the opposition for the failure. He said Mr Saleh agreed to sign the proposal, but "the opposition are the ones delaying the signing."
Mr Zaid said he is not surprised at yesterday's collapse and expects the GCC will once again give Mr Saleh more time.
"This is a life or death situation for Saleh, and him signing means that his rule will be over in 30 days. He is not ready to leave yet," Mr Zaid said.
"GCC is not being firm in their demands and Saleh is playing his normal game."
Opposition member Ahmed Bahri, who met Mr Zayani yesterday afternoon, said: "Zayani explained to us how difficult it has been, but feels he is too close to succeeding now to call it quits.".
Mr al Zayani met Gulf ambassadors in Yemen yesterday at the residence of Sheikh Mohammed Abu Lahoum, president of the opposition Building and Justice Party, explaining to them the changes in the proposal.
At least six Arab and foreign ambassadors were at the meeting that lasted more than five hours, according to Sheikh Abu Lahoum. "Even when chances are slim, I continue being hopeful that sides will agree in the last minute."
Opposition officials complained that the GCC proposal had been changed five times during the past week.
"Every day, Mr al Zayani comes to the JMP with a different change in the proposal. He does not understand that this is what Saleh wants and in the end his efforts will be fruitless," said Mohammed Waddif, an opposition Nasserite party official.
In his meeting with the Gulf official, Mr Saleh tried to convince Mr al Zayani to delay the signing until May 22, Yemen's unity national holiday.
"For him to announce his stepping down on May 22 would have been historical and this is what Saleh wants," Mr Thari said.
However, his demand was rejected.
As part of the deal, the JMP insisted on keeping protesters at "change squares" nationwide to ensure that young people continue to play a role in the process.
"We clearly informed Zayani that even after signing the GCC proposal, the only guarantee for the success of the Yemeni revolution is that protesters continue their mission and ensure that democracy prevails in Yemen," said Abu Osba, an opposition member.
But protests continued yesterday. Salman Waqedi, a youth leader in Sana'a, said: "We reject any initiative granting immunity to Saleh and not ensuring an immediate, unconditional departure of the regime. Saleh is a criminal and should be treated like one."
* With additional reporting by the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters