SANA'A // Talks to resolve Yemen's political crisis have failed after the deputy to the country's wounded president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, refused to speak with groups demanding he cede power immediately, opposition figures said.
Mr Saleh, who was forced to seek medical treatment in Saudi Arabia for wounds suffered in an attack on his palace nine days ago, has refused to leave office despite nearly six months of street protests and many diplomatic attempts to remove him.
The ensuing political paralysis and long-standing conflicts with Islamist insurgents, separatists and rebel tribesmen, has fanned western and regional fears of Yemen collapsing into chaos and giving al Qa'eda a stronghold alongside oil shipping routes.
A member of the group of opposition parties demanding Mr Saleh transfer power now said international efforts to broker an agreement to that end had collapsed because the acting leader, vice president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, would not talk to them.
"The American and European efforts for a dialogue between opposition parties and the ruling party has failed," Mohammed al Mutawakkil said. "The vice-president has refused to deal with or meet opposition parties.
"He justifies that by saying he is preoccupied with dealing with the fuel crisis and the ceasefire, as well as the security situation in the provinces."
A ceasefire has held in Sana'a since Mr Saleh left a week ago, after more than 200 people were killed and thousands fled during two weeks of clashes between his loyalists and the forces of the tribal leader Sheikh Sadeq al Ahmar, who backs the protesters.
The capital is all but paralysed by shortages of fuel and electricity, and violence in a southern province whose capital was seized by Islamist gunmen last month has worsened.
Yemen's army killed 21 al Qa'eda members in the province of Abyan on Saturday, 18 of them in Zinjibar, the provincial capital that fell.
Ten soldiers were killed in fighting there and another city, Lawdar, state media said.
Residents of Zinjibar said fighting continued early yesterday, leaving at least four soldiers and several gunmen dead.
Yemen's health ministry said it would send 10,000 tonnes of medical supplies to people who have fled Zinjibar, including some 10,000 in the southern port of Aden.
A Yemeni NGO, Seyaj, called for help evacuating some 500 people trapped in the town due to continued fighting. Opposition parties have said they will form their own transitional assembly in a week if Mr Saleh does not cede power. It is not clear whether those parties have any significant influence over many of the protesters.
Mr Saleh has three times backed out of plans crafted by Gulf neighbours to quit after a transitional period. His opponents have accused him of handing over Zinjibar to Islamists to reinforce his threat that the end of his three-decade rule, as demanded by protesters, would amount to ceding the region to al Qa'eda.
Mr Saleh has not been seen in public since the attack, which left him with burns and shrapnel wounds. Yemen's ambassador in London said on Saturday that he was recovering and in a "stable condition".
Saudi medical sources and Yemeni officials said prime minister Ali Mohammed Megawar and another cabinet member injured in the palace attack had been taken for more surgery, and described their condition as "serious". Yesterday, a report said five people have been arrested over suspected links to the bomb attack that wounded Mr Saleh on June 3.
The Agence France-Press report, attributed to an unnamed diplomat in Yemen, said some 50 people have so far been questioned.
Interfax news agency reported two planes had been dispatched to evacuate Russian nationals who want to leave the country. About 1,000 Russians citizens are in Yemen.
* Reuters with additional reporting from Agence France-Presse