Source: Reuters, By Mohammed Sudam and Mohammed GHobari
* GCC secretary general to speak with president
* UAE foreign minister to visit Sanaa on Saturday
* Saleh again signals defiance
SANAA-The Gulf Cooperation Council secretary general met president in Sanaa on Thursday to present the GCC’s views on ending a political crisis threatening to plunge the country into further violence.
Gulf Arab and Western states -- long-time backers of President Ali Abdullah Saleh -- have been seeking to negotiate an orderly transition of power to end over three months of unrest.
Protesters demanding democratic reforms in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state insist the veteran president step down.
A Yemeni official told Reuters GCC Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani met Saleh and presented a written document of the GCC’s vision for a transition.
He gave no details.
"He has already met the president and we expect him to meet the opposition," he said.
Saleh, who has given mixed signals on his readiness to step down, voiced defiance again on Wednesday, telling a crowd of supporters he would stand firm amid "conspiracies and coups".
"Those who want power or to gain the seat of power should do so through the ballot box," he said. "Change and departure will be through voting via the legal framework of the constitution."
Saleh has said he will not seek reelection when his term ends in 2013, then said he would stand down after organizing new parliamentary and presidential elections this year.
But the opposition and protesters have little faith in his promises and want him to stand down first.
"This speech is to raise spirits, but it no longer logical because the people have had their say, they say an immediate departure is necessary," said Sultan al-Atwani, the leader of Yemen’s Nasserist party, part of an opposition coalition.
"It (the government) needs to prepare for its departure, voluntarily or by force."
TALKS DRAG, VIOLENCE FLARES
Yemeni officials also expect a visit on Saturday from the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates. Opposition leaders said it was unclear if Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan would also meet them.
Earlier this week Gulf foreign ministers met Yemeni government representatives in Abu Dhabi, and an opposition delegation in Riyadh.
As rounds of negotiations have dragged on, violence has flared. Protesters tested security forces limits by marching past the defence and other ministries in Sanaa on Wednesday and burning tyres in the streets of Taiz, south of the capital.
The death toll has been rising. Six people died from their wounds when police opened fire at protests in Sanaa and Taiz on Tuesday, bringing the count of demonstrators killed to 123.
The potential for fractious Yemen to further descend into chaos or bloodshed has been a concern for Washington and neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer.
Both countries are intended targets for al Qaeda, which has reestablished in mountainous Yemen in recent years.
Gulf states fear the standoff could lead to clashes between rival military units -- after leading general Ali Mohsen turned against Saleh last month -- in a country where Saleh relies on tribal alliances to maintain control in many areas.
Saleh has warned of chaos if he is forced out of office, suggesting there could be civil war and militants could benefit.
But the opposition, which includes the Islamist Islah party, says it could do better at maintaining control and accuses Saleh of making deals with militant groups in the past.